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Entries in Paul [2011] (1)

Saturday
Mar192011

Paul (2011)

Pedestrian Terrestrials

I don't know who Paul was made for.

Scratch that. I know exactly who it was made for: The mouth-breathers laughing their asses off all around me at last night's screening, who had apparently never seen science-fiction films, comedies, or the trailers for the movie they were watching.

Seriously, every joke in this waste of time, money and talent was stolen; every reference to other movies was easy and also stolen; and the only moments in which the characters weren't involved in schoolyard jokes about gays, flatulence, or pot smoking were the pauses they took to breathe.

Paul is ostensibly about two middle-aged, geeky Brits named Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) who, while road-tripping across the U.S., encounter a wise-cracking, slacker alien named Paul (a big-eyed CG gray, voiced by Seth Rogen), who's escaped from Area 51.  What it's really about, though, is two very talented, very smart Brits (also Pegg and Frost) on vacation from writing the rich comedies that made them famous (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) to slum it in the world of Pop-Reference Buddy Pictures (Shrek, The Green Hornet)--movies whose sole purpose is to remind undiscriminating audiences of other movies they've watched a hundred times before, without offering any new take on the material (new material is out of the fucking question).

But, wait, you ask, wasn't Shaun of the Dead a Pop-Reference Buddy Picture about zombies?

Nice try, but thanks for paying attention.

Shaun of the Dead was a zombie movie dressed in a sharp English comedy suit.  It was made for an audience used to a drier, more intelligent brand of humor that, while occasionally low-brow, was always two steps ahead of the American-style cheap physical gag (perfect example: the scene where Shaun and Ed attempt to foil zombies by flinging records at them, but only albums that their fevered collectors' minds will let them get rid of).  Paul's idea of a laugh staple is having characters constantly fall backwards in a faint with a goofy look on their faces (I counted five instances of this, with another in which the person sort of got weak in the knees and then collapsed).

The movie is guilty of two unforgivable, criminal offenses.  The first is the frequent use of quotes from popular sci-fi movies as dialogue.  I can excuse dropping in one or two references, but when more than five scenes are underscored by quotes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Aliens, it's clear that the writers are either uninvested, unimaginative, or, worst-case, believe that the audience is too stupid to care one way or the other.  This also applies to the film's use of Devil's Tower National Monument as the location for its climax; a big deal is made of making sure everyone knows that the characters know that the movie is referencing the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (because everyone in the target demographic knows and reveres that movie, right?).  But instead of putting a spin on that ending, Paul simply re-creates it, with a dash of E.T. and Men in Black.

(I'll give the filmmakers credit for the five seconds of enjoyment I got from this piece of shit film, in which Graeme and Clive enter a country-western bar to the sounds of a live band playing the cantina song from Star Wars--but neither character (who, remember, are supposedly born-and-bred sci-fi fanatics) acknowledges the music at all!)

The second big problem is the fact that the cast is full of really talented performers who should have known better than to sign up for this lame material.  Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, and Pegg and Frost have resumes brimming with brilliantly absurd comedic performances; Paul's script is leagues beneath them, and the whole affair is so juvenile that their collective performances amount to little more than a curses-laden, hour-and-forty-minute Sesame Street cameo.

Lynch's and Weaver's appearances are the most troubling, and the most indicative of who this movie is aimed at.  Jane Lynch has built such a late-stage career playing uber-bitch Sue Sylvester on Glee that even her turn as a friendly waitress is just Sue with a name tag and a smidge less 'tude.  Did director Greg Mottola ever watch Best in Show?  Does anyone but me remember that Lynch once had range and less broad comedic gifts?  

This leads me to the Weaver problem, which may be related, and is definitely more disturbing. Throughout the film, we hear Sigourney Weaver barking orders to Jason Bateman's FBI agent character.  We never see her face, but the voice is unmistakable; there's no distorting or disguising it.  When she stepped out of the helicopter during the climax, I heard gasps and whispers of, "Oh, My God!" and "It's that chick!" all around me.  A more dignified way to handle her role might have been to leave it as a complete surprise, but Motolla and company seem to have gambled on half the audience not recognizing the voice of a film icon and the other half-recognizing said icon from films as far back as 2009's Avatar.

Fuck it.  You know what?  There's a third sin here, and I'm not letting Seth Rogen off the hook.  When he burst into the mainstream consciousness with Knocked Up, I thought he did a great job of playing the lovable, perpetually stoned slacker who just needed a little push to grow up.  But that was four years ago, and he's played the same goddamned character in every movie since; it's distracting and it needs to stop (see also Tommy Lee Jones, 1993-2002).

The look of Paul is quite wonderful. Sure, the design is completely uninspired (it'd be out of place in this film if it wasn't), but the animation and compositing with the live actors is mostly spot-on.  It's when he opens his mouth that the believability gets sucked out his scenes.  That voice does not go with that face; it's like watching a movie with really irritating dubbing.  Worse yet, Paul isn't even a character: He's Seth Rogen, complete with the misbegotten-entitlement snark and penchant for weed and dick jokes. For the record, I love weed and dick jokes--but not when I've heard them from the same guy for nearly half a decade.

Paul is an R-rated version of the Race to Witch Mountain remake, without half the charm or reason for existing.  And I know some of you will see this movie and accuse me of being too uptight or not having a sense of humor.  You'll honestly believe this is a good movie because you love Shaun of the Dead and sci-fi, and you think the people behind this movie made it as a Valentine to fans of classic, heartwarming spaceman adventures.  But at some point, you're going to have to demand more of your filmmakers than dressing characters in Empire Strikes Back t-shirts and having them feed their cute alien friend Reese's Pieces.  One day, the 80s nostalgia gold mine will be completely stripped (I predict one week from this film's release date), and then what will you have?

Nothing, if we insist on raising a new generation of movie lovers on recycled, self-referential garbage like this.