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An alien take on the stoner comedy

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Set primarily in the Western United States, Paul is the fish-out-of-water story of Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), two nerdy British vacationers who embark on a road trip across the West. When they pull over in their RV on a long stretch of desert highway, they come into contact with an alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who calls himself Paul. Apart from your typical short, green, bug-eyed alien look, Paul is completely different from the average alien. He speaks English, he knows more about pop culture than the average human, and he’s obnoxiously affrontive. How he came to be this way isn’t explained, but the film does vaguely describe the shady business relationship that Paul once had with the American government. Through other unexplained circumstances, Paul has been evading capture by the USA for some time now, but it’s just a matter of time before the government closes in on his location. Thus begins the story that is part buddy road-trip and part science fiction comedy. The characters’ dimwittedness is hilarious and carries the movie.

In this film, directed by Greg Motolla, recurring gags make up the bulk of the comedy. Graeme and Clive’s mutual excitement for comic books is frequently misinterpreted as proof that the two are gay lovers. Furthermore, Paul’s influence over Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a caricature of the stubborn Bible Belt Christian fundamentalist, causes her to embrace what she thinks is the lifestyle of the modern twenty-something. She attempts to be hip by drinking, smoking, and unexpectedly swearing during awkward social situations. And of course there’s the cliche slapstick comedy in which everybody’s reaction to seeing an alien is to fall straight backward in a state of shock. These gags might not be sophisticated, but they are amusing for a little while. But the laughs get quieter as these jokes systematically repeat themselves over and over.

The movie is decent and the requisite humour is all there. Some moments are outrageous and unexpected, while other scenes are passable scenarios that border on conventional comedy shtick. The road trip/chase plot is similar to that of Dumb and Dumber, which also builds its story entirely upon the naivete of its characters. But in Paul, there’s a lot of humour that comes from simply repeating certain jokes and situations rather than using an arsenal of clever comedic material. This movie doesn’t have the same British humour angle that Pegg and Frost showed in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, but their take on alien stereotypes is original and worth checking out.

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