There’s something oddly dispiriting about the basic comic premise of Paul, which amounts to this: What if an extraterrestrial actually did crash-land on Earth back in the late 1940s, as the UFO nuts claim? And what if this hyper-intelligent being from another world, while looking just like the standard description of “grays”—massive bald head, spindly frame, wraparound eyes, no discernible ears—turned out to think, talk and behave exactly like Seth Rogen? Rogen is a funny guy, but his sarcastic-stoner persona is already beginning to feel a little played out; simply transplanting it into the CGI body of an alien smacks of desperation.
Granted, Paul is primarily the brainchild of British actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the stars of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. (Those films were directed and co-written by Edgar Wright, who was busy with last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Superbad’s Greg Mottola steps in here to direct.) Here, Pegg and Frost play two slavering fanboys who, after a visit to Comic-Con (which feels uncomfortably like an advertisement), decide to take a road trip to Roswell and Area 51, where they literally crash into Paul (voice of Rogen), an E.T. on the run from government baddies, who requests their assistance in phoning home and whatnot.
And that’s about it, really. Paul has only two modes of humor, both of which yield fitful laughs. One is the essential incongruity of a gray in cargo shorts who wants nothing more than to hit the bong, which gets old in a hurry. The other is an endless stream of loving references to classic sci-fi movies, particularly the early Steven Spielberg oeuvre. But where Hot Fuzz re-created the ’80s action flicks it was spoofing, Paul seems content mostly to quote well-known lines of dialogue and wait for the target audience to nod in appreciation. (The best gags tend to be more random, like naming Jason Bateman’s federal agent Lorenzo Zoil.) Pegg and Frost’s previous efforts aspired to the witty, po-faced parody/homage of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Paul is a lot closer in lazy spirit to Robin Hood: Men in Tights.