Thursday, April 7, 2011

Movie – Paul (2011)

After doing the movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz together, Edgar Wright moved on to direct Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Simon Pegg went on to play Scotty in the reboot of Star Trek.  When it came time to do another movie, Wright and Pegg could not coordinate their schedules, so Pegg worked with Nick Frost to co-write the next movie they would star in.  That movie is Paul, which is still in theaters as I write this.

After doing comedies in the zombie horror and buddy cop action movie genres, Pegg and Frost decided they would tackle the sci-fi alien genre, but also in a comedic way.  It was a natural for them since they are big fans of these movies. 

Pegg and Frost play geeky best friends who have come to the U.S. to first visit Comic-Con and to then play tourist, driving an RV around the country to various places that are important in the alien visitation mythology.  They do get to a couple of them, but outside of Area 51 they see a car crash in front of them.  They get out to see if they can help and discover that it was an alien driving the car.  His name is Paul and he has just escaped from Area 51.  He needs to get back to his ship in Wyoming so that he can get home.  Even though they are freaked out they agree to drive him there.

Paul turns out to not be like most aliens you’ve seen in movies or read about.  When asked if he’s going to “probe” them, he gets irritated.  “Why does everybody ask that?  What is the fascination you humans have with that?”  He turns out to basically be one of the guys, laid back and a lot like the buddy who hangs around, being irritating now and then, but who is still your bud.

He explains to them that he’s been at Area 51 for decades, but it’s not like they think.  He really liked it there until recently.  He got to do a lot of good things and he shared his knowledge with them.  In fact, he even consulted with Steven Spielberg on E.T.  There’s a funny scene where it shows Paul talking on a speakerphone with Spielberg, kicking around ideas on what would become the movie E.T.  I remember thinking, “whoever they got to do Spielberg’s voice was perfect.”  It turns out that was actually Steven Spielberg making a voice cameo in the movie.

As you might expect, references to other science fiction movies abound.  Like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, you don’t have to get the references to still be able to understand and enjoy the movie.  If you do get them, it just makes some scenes ever funnier.  An example:  Just after they’ve picked up Paul the two guys stop at a convenience store to get some food.  They get out, looking all around them, expecting a horde of government agents to descend on them for harboring an alien fugitive.  They nervously start to make their way across the parking lot as quietly as possible then all of a sudden Paul honks the horn and yells out the window, “And get some Reese’s Pieces.”  It’s funny because Paul draws attention to them just when they don’t want it.  It’s even funnier if you get the reference to E.T.  Eliot used Reese’s Pieces to lure E.T. out into the open in his house.  E.T. loved them.  Hey, remember the earlier scene where Paul said he advised Spielberg on E.T.?  He must have been the one to get Spielberg to use Reese’s Pieces.

On the way to Wyoming, there are some agents on their tail.  One of them (Jason Bateman) is taking orders from his boss, a woman who you only hear over the phone.  Her voice may be familiar, especially if you are into science fiction films with aliens in them.  I won’t spoil it here.  She is listed in cast if you want to be spoiled.

There are tons of references to E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Aliens, Star Wars, Star Trek, and many other movies, including for some reason, Lorenzo’s Oil.  They actually removed a few references to Star Trek because they thought that they were a little too self-aggrandizing since Pegg had played Scotty in the Star Trek reboot.  In addition to the woman on the phone, there is another woman in the cast who science fiction film fans will recognize.  There are also funny cameos by Jane Lynch and David Koechner.

My favorite movie reference is a scene where the guys go into this tough biker bar way out in the wilds of Nevada and the bluegrass band on stage is playing the Cantina Theme from Star Wars.

The biggest negative I’ve heard about the movie is that it uses extremist religious nuts for some of the humor and some people have decided that the filmmakers are insulting all Christians in general.  That’s not remotely the case.  The religious characters shown in the movie are so far removed from reality that they are practically a parody.  While I am sure that there are some people somewhere in the U.S. who think just like these characters do, they are far removed from mainstream religious people.  Just think, though, what would the reaction be from these extremists if they were to encounter an extraterrestrial?  As you might expect, it is pretty funny.

Unless you are an extremist religious nut with a thin skin, then I highly recommend this film.  It is consistently funny and has some heart to it, too. 

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Maybe it's just my perspective, but thick-skinned religious people seem to be rare. To the most outspoken faithful, anything that counter-argues the bible is deemed as threatening. It makes one wonder how strong their faith really is.

    This movie was a riot. I enjoyed it the most out of Pegg and Frost's collaborations so far.

  2. "It makes one wonder how strong their faith really is."

    I completely agree. It's not that there are that many extremists; it's that they are disproportionately loud.