Paul (2011)

(In theatres, March 2011) The mainstreaming of geek culture over the past decade has meant as many mainstream products aimed at the geek demographics than geek attitudes adopted into the mainstream.  So that’s how we end up with Paul, a broadly-accessible comedy about two geeks encountering an alien while road-tripping through the US.  Working without director Edgar Wright, comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost pair up with Greg Mottola to deliver a comedy that’s surprisingly less geeky than either Shaun of the Dead or even Hot Fuzz.  Given the change in director, it’s no surprise if the cinematic grammar of the film is far more sedate, more conventional and not quite as bitingly funny: As one would expect, it’s closer to Mottola’s Adventureland than Wright’s Scott Pilgrim.  But this different kind of atmosphere reflects the different nature of the plot: Featuring a charming and foul-mouthed gray alien, Paul works as an amiable road trip film, featuring two spacey heroes and one down-to-Earth alien who may be more human than the humans.  Sometimes, though, the film missteps: some of the violence is surprising, the profanity and media references can be tiresome and the two lead actors are far too old to play such socially retarded characters: A comparison with the similarly-themed Fanboys shows that what’s charming at age 18 can feel just a bit sad at 40.  Yet it’s hard to remain disappointed for long at a film that generally works as it should: if it’s not quite as funny, insightful or surprising as it could be, it’s still a generally good time at the movies, and a welcome comedic counterpoint to the slew of other alien-invasion films we’re seeing at the moment.

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