March 29, 2011
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Close Encounter of the Comedic Kind
Starring Nick Frost, Simon Pegg & Kristen Wiig
Directed by Greg Mottola
Rated R, 104 minutes
It’s shaping up to be a space-invader summer.
“Battle: Los Angeles,” in theaters now, depicts a group of U.S. Marines defending the West Coast against an intergalactic invasion. Soon to come are Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig as Old West gunslingers fighting out-of-this-world outlaws in “Cowboys & Aliens,” and “Super 8,” the hush-hush collaboration between Steven Spielberg and TV producer J.J. Abrams (“Lost”) about something not of this Earth on a terrifying rampage in the Midwest.
In the middle of all this death-from-above anxiety comes “Paul,” a refreshingly rollicking, sweetly raunchy comedy about a little green man trying to get home.
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg play Clive and Graeme, a pair of British UFO fanatics on a driving tour of American space-alien hot spots like Area 51 and Roswell, N.M. Though they’ve spent their entire lives thinking about close encounters, they’re totally unprepared for their face-to-face with Paul one evening on a deserted stretch of desert highway.
The ensuing misadventure hinges on a frantic race in a rented RV to meet up with Paul’s mother ship before government operatives can rein in their prize catch from the long covered-up 1947 UFO crash that left the little guy stranded. Along the way, the plot picks up a couple of angry yahoos, a young woman whose religious views are turned inside-out when she finds out about Paul, and a clever assortment of in-jokes about “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “ET,” “The X-Files,” sci-fi nerds and other classic bits of pop-cultural stardust.
The merry parade of supporting actors includes Sigourney Weaver (in an especially inspired bit of queen-bee casting that salutes her long-running sci-fi cred), Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, Blythe Danner, Jane Lynch from “Glee,” and “Saturday Night Live”’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Seth Rogan provides the voice for the computer-animated Paul.
Among the movie’s many delightful surprises are finding out, in a quick--and quick-witted--flashback, Paul’s pivotal role in helping a certain superstar director come up with the idea for an iconic ’80s blockbuster about a little extra-terrestrial that loved Reece’s Pieces.
In another scene, a roadhouse band plays a familiar-sounding tune with a honky-tonk twist. A main-street theater marquee displays its feature as “Duel,” a wink to Spielberg’s first full-length, made-for-TV movie from the 1970s.
Paul can be crude, rude and profane. (The movie’s R rating is for language and a scene of drug use.) But he’s one cool-dude, cosmic-traveling, slacker pothead, with a couple of alien tricks that come in quite handy in a jam, and a big heart when the situation calls for it.
Is there life out there? If there is, let’s hope it’s Paul, a little alien who makes us laugh while suggesting a streak of goodness that spans the universe--instead of angry monsters that want to destroy us!