Paul: A Tasteless and Unfunny Ride Through the Desert

I had high hopes for citing sources in an essay.  The initial concept sounded silly, and the clomid and muscle gain/ writing and acting duo have cracked me up in the past.  Their hilarious movies and Bonuses are two of my favorite comedies.   So, when I heard that they were to star in a film about a fugitive Grey Alien and a road trip through some of the biggest UFO hotspots in the U.S.  I was pretty excited.

Here is the synopsis of the film provided by Universal Pictures:

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) reunite for the comedy adventure Paul as two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever. For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. When he discovers he’s been taken prisoner, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town-a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost). Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes…

Sounds fun, yes?  I will tell you, it started out that way.  It actually was quite charming.  Two Science Fiction nerds played by Pegg (Graeme Willy) and Frost (Clive Gollings) come from the U.K. to America to attend Comic-Con in San Diego.  These opening scenes are funny and endearing.  They speak in Klingon to one another, geek out over their favorite Sci-Fi author, etc.  After the convention, they rent an RV and set out to explore all of the famous UFO related sites that the South West of America has to offer such as Roswell and Area 51.  When they reach the famous “Black Mailbox” of Groom Lake, they stop for pictures.  This is when they meet Paul, the alien.  And what should be the beginning of the real adventure, actually ignites flames in which the movie is slowly consumed.

If you think that watching a CGI alien voiced by Seth Rogen dropping F-Bombs for 2 hours sounds like fun, then by all means, get out your money and go see the film.  I wasn’t surprised by the language or the drug related humor.  I expected it.  It is Seth Rogen.  I’m no prude, I think he’s a funny guy!  I certainly wasn’t thinking that Paul was going to be a high-brow British comedy a-la The Importance of Being Earnest, but I guess I wasn’t expecting these clever writers to play to the frat boy sensibility either.  Call me old fashioned, but when I’m watching a comedy, I expect to see some comedy mixed in with the dick jokes and swearing.

The idea of the film is that Paul is an alien that crashed to Earth decades ago, and has lived at Area 51 all of his life.  He has adopted a very human way of speaking and behaving, and that’s a funny concept.  What isn’t funny is relying on words like F**k, to deliver nearly EVERY punchline.  Maybe a few, but come ON!  I reiterate… this is not coming from someone who is squeamish about “bad words”.  My friend Angie, who went to see the film with me and was equally disappointed, and I are some of the most vulgar people if the mood is right.  We love a little bathroom humor.  We relish a well-placed curse word.   I guess we just expected… more.

When the movie was over, we left the theater in agreement that the movie was pretty bad.  We tried to remember the times we actually laughed out loud.  There weren’t many.  Maybe a snicker or two.  It wasn’t without humor.  Just not enough.  We tried to analyze just why it was that we had such a bad reaction to the movie.  What it boiled down to was that while the reliance on juvenile humor did get irritating, what really irked us was that much of the comedic scenes were downright mean.  Particularly when it came to religion.

Many comedians rely on satire to deliver a humorous commentary on religious dogma.  I can appreciate that.  Even those that are religious should be able to laugh at themselves, and I have no qualms about that.  In particular, fundamentalist Christians do have a tendency to set themselves up to be toyed with by comics with a more liberal worldview.  With that said, there is a point where it goes from being witty observational humor to mean spirited attacks.  Paul was loaded with these types of gags.

Ruth Buggs sports a t-shirt that depicts Jesus shooting Darwin with the caption "Evolve This".

Kristen Wiig is one of the funniest people to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in years.  She’s one of the main players that keeps the show fresh and funny.  I am a big fan.  That said, her character in Paul is a childish attempt to deliver an F – YOU to Christians.  The main focal point of her role as Ruth Buggs is that she is a sheltered religious fundie, and Paul opens her eyes to the fact that there is no God, and she is free to do whatever she wants.   “You mean I can fornicate?  You mean I can sin?  You mean I can curse?”  Paul tells her yes, if you feel like it.  So the rest of the film she spends streaming together ridiculous sounding curse words and pseudo-curse words of her own design.  At first… funny.  8,000 repeats of that same gag later, annoying.

I’ve read other reviews that consider this religious humor to be rather tame, and that perhaps it simply isn’t suited to American sensibilities.  I don’t know.  There’s a scene in the movie where Ruth’s father is chasing a “man in black” type of character as he tries to find his daughter (who is now a part of the RV journey with Paul and the gang).  The father yells “I’m on a mission from God!” to which the agent replies “Tell God he failed!” and then shoots him.  There was a palpable lack of laughter in the theater at that scene which was apparently supposed to be quite funny.

I guess the bottom line is that I had slightly higher hopes for this film than what was delivered.  The puerile humor disappointed me.  I have to wonder what kind of influence the Hollywood experience had on the Pegg/Frost writing duo.  Director Greg Mottola is the man responsible for slacker hits like Superbad, and I can see that there is more of that type of influence here than previous Pegg/Frost ventures.

The big payoff at the end for Sci-Fi fans was to be the appearance of Sigourney Weaver as the big bad guy.  She shows up looking stunning in a silver gown, and expertly wields a gun as she threatens Paul and his friends.  Unfortunately, this will not be remembered as a high point of Weaver’s career.  It was uneventful to the extent that it was relatively pointless.  And of course, she gets the honor of delivering one of the films countless gay slurs.

So here we see the contradiction in a film that wants to be extra liberal and edgy by sticking it to those who are unfortunate enough to believe in a higher power, but still not evolved enough to avoid the beer-pong mentality which states that homosexuality is funny and the ultimate insult from one straight man to another is to call him gay.

I’ll end on a positive note.  There were a few clever bits that did make me smile.  One such scene happened during a shopping trip to buy fireworks big enough to signal Paul’s alien friends.  The chosen firework made series of musical tones that were a nod to Close Encounters of the Third Kind .  Another fun moment was an obscure reference to the movie Mac and Me. Then there was the silliness of Graeme and Clive sporting those ridiculous head lamps rather than flashlights.  I also giggled near the beginning at Graeme and Clive’s giddiness over being in Roswell.  Pegg simply cannot leave the local diner without getting his alien themed milk shake and bumper sticker that says, “Alien on Board”, which humorously becomes true a few miles down the road.

Paul Trailer