Bromancing the Alien

03/16/2011 4:00 AM |


Directed by Greg Mottola

It’s a shame that Paul, boasting the talents of Superbad director Greg Mottola and a diverse, loopy cast from both sides of the Atlantic, turns out to be only intermittently funny. It’s certainly a one-joke premise: an alien that physically resembles the Mars Attacks! villains turns out to be as harmless as…well, as harmless as Seth Rogen in an alien suit. But with just a little more wit, and a little less resorting to explosions and gunfire, Paul could have stretched its silly, self-mocking premise to Anchorman-level heights of absurdity.

Two overgrown British nerds (Shaun of the Dead‘s Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also wrote the screenplay) embark on an RV road trip from Comic-Con to Area 51. Hilariously un-self-conscious, they waddle through churlish Hicksville, giggling incredulously at people’s prejudices. It’s a bro-mance, no question, but with far subtler gay-panic jokes than in most American bro-mances.

Unfortunately, once Pegg and Frost stumble upon the titular alien (voiced by Rogen), they become subsidiary characters in their own movie. Enlisted to help Paul escape from hostile authorities (Jason Bateman, Joe LaTruglio and Bill Hader, all sadly underused), their mere function is to faint and stutter on cue whenever Paul reads a mind, heals a wound disappears. The dry wit of the early scenes flies out the window, never to return.

Rogen manages a few sassy lines, most of them serving to debunk crass myths about aliens (“How much can I learn from an ass?” he retorts, when Pegg asks if he’ll be probing them). But generally, Paul is a blandly insouciant creation. There’s a gold mine of potential laughs that can be tapped, for instance, from the realization that Rogen has been watching Earth’s progress for the past 60 years, but this is never explored. Most of the film, in fact, makes far less fun of its self-imposed cliches than it should.

Paul is partially redeemed by Kristen Wiig’s superb turn as a Bible Belt-bred, half-blind girl, who tags along with the gang and promptly sheds her Puritan values. Most of Paul‘s wonderfully inventive streams of profanity (example: “Ain’t that a bag o’tits!”) are delivered by Wiig; finally, here’s a bro-mance film where the girl actually outshines the bros.

Opens March 18