Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman reviews Paul
Pretty much every negative review for Paul that I've read is prefaced with the same thing I'll say here: I'm a big fan of Shaun of the Dead and I loved Hot Fuzz (I gave it 5 stars). Those films starred the dynamic duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and were directed by Edgar Wright. The director here is Greg Mottola, who directed Superbad (which I also liked). I had hoped that the Pegg, Frost, and Mottola partnership would make for a new and great comedy movie combination aimed directly at fanboy geeks like myself.
Sadly... not so much.
Pegg and Frost play Graeme Wily and Clive Gollings, a couple of British nerd/fanboys who've finally realized their dream of visiting America. Not only America, but the pinnacle event of geek culture: The San Diego Comic-Con. Like any good, dedicated Sci-Fi/comic book fan, they roam the main floor gazing longingly at all the expensive toys for sale. Clive is a writer and Graeme an artist and they've been working on a graphic novel inspired by the work of their favorite author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor, sadly underutilized in the film). They meet him and gush, ignoring the fact that he's quite a pompous ass.
After the Con they decide to drive cross country and hit the UFO sights including places like Roswell, New Mexico. They're reveling in their adventure when they come across a car wreck as it happens - and this is where they meet Paul, the little green alien (voiced by Seth Rogen). They each react to the seemingly street-wise alien who swears like a sailor in different ways. Graeme accepts and takes to Paul quite quickly while Clive is suspicious and aloof despite the fact that he's always dreamed of meeting an alien.
It's made clear that Paul has been on Earth for a very long time and the fact that he's suddenly out and about means that someone is looking for him. This is where we are introduced to Federal Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) - a no nonsense, by the book, order-taking man in black who is tasked with tracking down Paul no matter what the cost. He reluctantly partners up with a couple of newbie agents (Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader), who turn out to be the funniest additions to the whole movie.
While on the lam our trio runs into Kristin Wigg as Ruth Buggs, a fundamentalist Christian living in a trailer park, and oppressed by her drinking, redneck father. She's a creationist and "young-Earther," painted as about as naive and ignorant a person as you're likely to ever meet. Once she meets Paul, her worldview is completely shattered and she immediately loses her faith. The scene in which it happens is actually pretty funny - she decides that she can now drink, cuss and "fornicate" (that's a quote). She starts using her newfound permission to spout foul language, but she doesn't quite have the hang of how to combine the proper words, and it's funny for the first couple of times she does it (until the joke becomes overused, as the gag is revisited a LOT throughout the film).
The rest of the movie is spent with Ruth, Graeme and Clive trying to get Paul to a rendezvous point where he can be picked up, in order to head back home.
I can tell you that by about 15 minutes into Paul, before Ruth had been introduced, all the film managed to elicit from me were a couple of mild chuckles. Throughout the entire movie I thought there were maybe a half dozen laughs, tops. Paul is kind of a love letter to the sort of folks who are the reason that comic book movies started getting made - the folks who are rabid sci-fi fans and love superheroes. There are a ton of references and nods to films that we know and love (and I mean a TON of references), but overall that's just one of many things that got old.
Let's hit the controversy, now, shall we? The inclusion of a heavy anti-religion message feels very out of place, and I think even folks who don't have "Judeo-Christian beliefs" (quote from the film) will sense that. The supposed humor is wielded like a club - there's no subtlety like in Monty Python's Life of Brian or Kevin Smith's Dogma (two films that poked fun at religion that I enjoyed). Now ruminate on that for a moment - I'm calling a Monty Python film subtle in comparison to this. Some people have stated that in this regard the film is not mean-spirited, and on that I call complete B.S. It could hardly be meaner - including a scene at the very end where there might have been a chance for at least a small bit of grace (yes, that's an appropriate word for this), but instead it was another slap in the face. Oh, there's also a cheap shot at the fact police use, like, GUNS here in the U.S.. I wouldn't mind if it was actually funny - but again, club, over the head.
Additionally, I didn't understand why those behind the film felt that it needed to be rated R. Paul could have easily been a PG-13 movie - the extreme amount of foul language feels totally superfluous and adds nothing to the film. After a while it gets very old and I started to wonder: is there NO one in this film who knows how to speak a sentence without dropping an f-bomb or other profanity? Again, before you call me out as a priss, see the films I've listed above that I enjoyed.
So what's good? Well, being a Sci-Fi geek I did appreciate all the references to beloved films, even if it did get old after a while. Kristen Wigg does a good job with the role she's given to work with, and I'm always a fan of Jason Bateman's performance style. The CGI animation for the title character was excellent as well. But for me, the highlight was the two supporting characters played by Lo Truglio and Hader - the former plays it so earnestly goofy and the latter so completely straight that I couldn't help but smile at the pair whenever they were on screen.
I suppose there's a very narrow audience who may enjoy Paul, but in my opinion the filmmakers took an idea that could have been extremely funny and tainted it with a ton of foul language that was unnecessary and a heavy anti-religion message that kills most of the potential fun in the film.
Here's a trailer for Paul: