E.T., Go Home!
By Glenn Lovell
The poster is cute, the trailer cuter. “Paul” the movie? Don’t ask.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the lads from “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” are back as a couple of sci-fi nerds on holiday in the U.S. doing an RV tour of America’s “UFO hot spots.” En route from San Diego’s Comic-Con convention to Area 51 in New Mexico, they bump into the titular little green man, who’s computer-generated and voiced by Seth Rogen.
In pursuit of Paul — named for the dog his saucer flattened in 1947 — are three men in black, who receive orders from a cranky phone voice, which we immediately ID as that of a slumming Sigourney Weaver.
But you’re more interested in the funny-looking critter in madras shorts. Paul is what you’d expect: stringy elongated arms, bulbous head, large almond-shaped eyes. Having made the most of his 60-plus years in government custody, he comes on like a potty-mouthed stand-up comic.
Predictably, Paul has a million and one “E.T. phone home” jokes. And while I didn‘t keep count, I think most of them made it into the final cut of this lame lampoon.
There are also penis and alien probe jokes. Pegg’s character is even named Graeme Willy. Frost goes by Clive Gollings. I‘m not sure what “golling” is street slang for, but it can‘t be pretty.
“Paul” — written by the Brit comedy team and (sort of) directed by “Superbad’s” Greg Mottola — posits the question: What would a couple of hopeless fanboys do if they made first contact? Clive pisses himself and faints; Graeme chats up the alien and then gets all pissy because driving the what’s-it to his designated rendezvous means a detour from UFO clip joints.
The mouthy extraterrestrial, of course, soon wins the boys over and the threesome head out on the highway, stopping, with predictable results, at biker bars, UFO-themed motels and cafes, and a trailer park run by a fundamentalist nut job (John Carroll Lynch) and his very dull daughter (SNL’s Kristen Wiig), who, after an alien mind-meld, makes up for lost time.
There’s not much to report here. Pegg and Frost’s research into UFO-mania and the Southwest hasn’t netted much besides gun and redneck jokes. The bulk of their routines are recycled from “Mars Attacks!” and “Galaxy Guest,” that fun Trekkie spoof starring a light-years removed Weaver. The “in” references — to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Duel,” “Easy Rider,” “The Empire Strikes Back,“ “Star Trek,” “Spider-Man,” etc., etc. — are plentiful and painfully obvious.
And when they’ve run through the classics, Pegg and Frost slurp up the dregs, such as “Mac & Me,” that feature-length infomercial masquerading as an “E.T” clone.
The most inspired bit has Paul in a flashback on the phone with Steven Spielberg, advising the director to drop the finger touch between Elliott and the alien because “less is more.”
Unlike “Rango,” which made do with an Eastwood sound-alike, “Paul” signed the real deal. And why not? They probably got Stevie at a discount after pitching the idea, which is more suck-up than send-up.
PAUL ✮1/2 With Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver. Directed by Greg Mottola from a script by Frost and Pegg. 104 min. Rated R (for profanity, sex jokes)