It's hard to find fault in the career of Director Greg Mottola. After doing strong work as a television director for several years, Mottola broke out into the mainstream feature film market with Superbad, providing some of the biggest laughs I've ever had at the movies. Two years later, Mottola wrote and directed Adventureland, which I think stands out as one of the most underappreciated coming of age stories of modern times. When I read the synopsis for Paul, however, I feared that Mottola might finally be loosing his touch with visual effects driven comedy along the lines of Land of the Lost and Evan Almighty. Fortunately, this is not the case.
Paul is a film on the same level of the original Ghostbusters. Although the movie is an achievement in terms of production values, Paul never allows the special effects to overshadow the comedy. The true driving force of Paul is its screenplay by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which overflows with an assortment of hilarious visual and written gags. While it's not quite as good as Mottola's previous two films, Paul is another homerun from the director and keeps his winning streak intact.
In addition to writing the script, the film also stars Pegg and Frost, who previously worked together on Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and various other projects. Here they play Graeme and Clive, two English middle-aged fan boys who decide to visit every significant extraterrestrial sight in the United States. On their road trip, the two witness a car accident. The driver of the car turns out to be a short, gray alien wearing prissy shorts named Paul, voiced by none other than Seth Rogan.
Rogan might be the last person you'd ever expect to provide the voice of an extraterrestrial being. Yet, his voice goes hand-in-hand with the character of Paul, who's every bit as laid back and down-to-earth as the slacker 20 year olds you'd find working at a convenient store. Graeme and Clive learn that Paul has been held prisoner for the last 60 years and has recently escaped from Area 51. The two nerds agree to help Paul get back to his home planet before the government tracks him down.
Along with the endearing trio of Pegg, Frost and Rogan, Paul is enforced by a terrific supporting ensemble. Jason Bateman is perfectly cast as Lorenzo Zoil, a stone-faced government agent assigned with the duty of bringing Paul in. Zoil is reluctantly paired up with two immature rookies played by Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader, both of whom are regularly featured in Mottola's films. Kristen Wiig delivers another scene-stealing performance as Ruth, a woman who protests the notion of evolution with a T-shirt featuring Jesus Christ shooting Charles Darwin. There's even an extended cameo from a certain science fiction movie veteran as the Big Guy, an incognito agent who is determined to capture Paul.
As funny as Paul is, it goes beyond being the laugh riot some might expect. In a strange way, the film actually says something about human nature and what it means to be human. It's a wise film that also works as a smart piece of science fiction. I can't imagine any fan of science fiction not being completely won over by Paul. As somebody who watches a fair deal of science fiction movies, I couldn't help but lighten up when the film referenced the 1988 E.T. knockoff, Mac and Me.