When a movie with people like Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig and a host of other very funny people teaming up with the voice of Seth Rogen in a CG alien, the recipe is one of either utter disaster or fantastic success. Luckily, with PAUL, the new film hitting theaters this Friday, March 18th, the latter possibility wins out.
PAUL is a very funny movie that manages to reign in its big and wide ranging cast in a way that lets all those big names co-exist. Set Rogen is the titular character, an alien who has been living peacefully in a government facility for about 60 years, since crash-landing on Earth. Afraid they are done with him, he hits the road, hoping to escape via a rendezvous point a couple of states away.Rogen is at the top of his game in this film, with his voice being a perfect compliment to the stereotypical alien image (that's explained, by the way). Producers of the film said they actually filmed Rogen in many scenes, then gave his movements to the animators, providing a lessened disconnect between the CG character and the familiar voice. While the little alien steals the scene more than once, his performance is also dialed back at the right moments. It's probably the most balanced performance Rogen has turned in, and remarkably refreshing- it's amazing just how funny he can be when he's not trying very hard to be funny. Pegg and Frost's signature give and take is here as well, with a little more of a spotlight on Frost this time around than in their previous theatrical efforts of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, perhaps because this time around Frost is the co-writer. As lovable geeks thrown into a spectacular situation, they're really just playing caricatures of an aspect of their own personalities. The pair are known for their sci-fi, comic book, and general geeky love, and that really shines in this film. Frost's reactions in particular get played up quite a bit, and always added humor to his scenes. The two that surprised with just how good they were, though, were Bateman and Wiig. Their roles as a top-ranking federal agent and an ultra-religious trailer park attendee, respectively, felt like they were written specifically for these two actors. Bateman, playing the role incredibly straight, had laugh-out-loud lines every time he was on screen. Wiig was pretty much an amalgam of her Saturday Night Live characters at first, then showed depth as her character grew. While the movie delivered laughs for the entire runtime, it did have a couple of slightly off-putting elements. The story itself was quite sugary, with pretty much everything happening exactly as you think/hope it will, aside from a couple of small late-stage surprises. That's okay, though, because ultimately this is a comedy sci-fi fairy tale more than anything else, and the happiness (and even sappiness) winds up pretty welcomed in the end. There winds up being a staunch anti-religion theme interjected about midway through the film; it was a strange bit of politic thrown in and felt very preachy and out-of-place. It is moved on from quickly, though, and doesn't hurt the overall momentum of the film once it's in the rear-view mirror.
PAUL, in the end, is a heart-warming though slightly formulaic movie that is elevated by great dialogue and perfect delivery by every cast member that appears on screen. It provides plenty of laughs, and can absolutely be used as proof that the Pegg-Frost connection needs to stick around for years to come.