Monday, March 21, 2011

Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind

Three Stars

‘Paul’ is a spoof of science fiction films, and references ‘E.T.’, ‘Aliens’ and even um, ‘Mac and Me’ and while it’s not a great satire, it’s a sweetly nerdy satire and celebrates the genre of science fiction. It’s the story of two nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who get their wish in a way of meeting an alien. The film first takes us to a faraway place where people act strange and alien, which is the San Diego Comic Con. People in costumes, comic books and their favorite science fiction author, Adam Shadowchild (Jeffery Tambor) are all there. The two nerds Graeme and Clive are having a blast. They are two science fiction loving geeks, and Clive even has written his own comic book which he hands to his favorite science fiction author. “Let me guess,” He says, “you’re a writer.” Then they go off on a road trip in a big RV across America to see different places where UFO’s have been sighted. They end up on their way meeting an alien (CGI voiced by Seth Rogan). They decide to save the alien from Area 51, and then get in a bunch of trouble.

The film follows Pegg, Frost and the alien as they are on the run from a government agent (Justin Bateman). Then they bump into a girl (Kristen Wiig) who is a creationist and at first thinks Paul is the devil. She even had a t-shirt of Jesus shooting Darwin. They eventually become friends, and the film becomes something of a science fiction spoof crossed with a road picture. The film has plenty of science fiction references, but not overboard. Paul’s favorite candy is Reese’s Pieces and he even advises Spielberg at one point on an alien movie he is working on back in the eighties.

Like ‘Hot Fuzz’, the last film written by Pegg and Frost, ‘Paul’ is a one joke premise. Two nerds find an alien, and do a straight forward spoof of other science fiction films. It spoofs mostly the film, E.T. and tries to play it fairly straight. The film, though, does a pretty good job of playing it straight. It always has some American/British humor thrown in there. The two nerds are from Britain. Though, they always dreamed of coming to America, if not for any other reason than to go to the San Diego Comic Con. There’s a couple gay jokes thrown in about the two best friends traveling together, and Paul even asks them if they are together. They aren’t. They are simply two nerds who are achieving their dream of going to Comic Con, the super bowl of nerd culture. So, a trip to see the best UFO spots and meeting an alien along the way seems appropriate.

There’s plenty of nerd humor in ‘Paul’ but you don’t have to be a nerd to enjoy this film. At times the humor works better than other times, but the film never falls flat the way it could of. Paul isn’t the most interesting alien. He smokes and does mostly normal stuff. He moons people from the RV. Apparently, he’s had much influence over popular culture of the last sixty years. Despite the two nerd’s first reaction, fear of being probed, Paul assures them that’s not what he does. He’s way too interested in smoking and cursing to tell the two guys about the secrets of the universe. The humor can be a little crude at times, but nothing crude enough to flatten the premise. The main point of the film is to reference science fiction and nerd culture, and ‘Paul’ does a pretty good job of that.

The cast has fun with the premise. It’s basically a nerdy love letter to science fiction. They have some nerd humor thrown in there. The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who directed the funny ‘Superbad’ and he lets everyone just have fun with the premise. ‘Paul’ was written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, who made the very funny ‘Shawn of the Dead’, and though ‘Paul’ is not quite their best work, it’s funny. And there’s a cameo by Sigourney Weaver. She knows a thing or two about fighting aliens.