Those “Hot Fuzz” Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost make their Hollywood debut with “Paul,” a sometimes amusing meet-the-alien farce that aims to be every fanboy’s wet dream. But it’s sort of their shot at a foul-mouthed pot-sex-bodily-functions- Judd Apatow-style comedy and as such seems watered down, with just a hint of the British eccentricity that made them cult heroes.
The portly Frost is Clive, a one-and-done sci-fi writer whose best bud Graeme (Pegg) is his book cover illustrator. We meet them at that Gathering of the Nerd Tribes known as Comic Con in San Diego. And when they’ve had their fill of hanging with Ewoks and getting dissed by their favorite sci-fi hack (Jeffrey Tambor), they complete their American vacation with a road trip in a rented RV through the “UFO Hotspots” of the American southwest, from Area 51 to “The Black Mailbox,” ending in Roswell, New Mexico.
Maybe they’ll meet a real alien, something Clive has fantasized about all his life.
“First contact is a big responsibility,” he says, as if he’ll ever face that responsibility
But they never make it to Roswell. That’s because they pick up a hitchhiker, a guy who has just busted out of Area 51 — “Paul.” He looks like EveryAlien, a skinny, big-headed, big-eyed humanoid with green skin. And he sounds like Seth Rogen, from his laugh to his belch and every profanity in between.
The rest of this road picture, directed by Greg Mottola of “Adventureland,” is about this trio trying to smuggle Paul awayl from the “Men in Black” he’s escaped from. Jason Bateman and Bill Hader are the funnier two of them, Signourney Weaver is the menacing voice ordering them to “Take CARE of this” little breach in security.
It’s a movie of random hilarious bits — they duck into a road house where the boot-scooting band is playing the same music as the cantina band in “Star Wars,” and Paul settles, once and for all, the “Evolution vs. Creationism” debate with a a sheltered trailer park rube (Kristen Wiig, funny). That blast at American fundamentalism is the pithiest and most British observation in the movie.
The rest of “Paul” is simply and frankly generic in the extreme. Funny players like Jane Lynch and David Koechner are given too little to do. It’s all riffs on where Steven Spielberg got all his hit movie ideas (his voice is heard in a phone call with Paul), movie references from “E.T. and “Starman” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and even “Lorenzo’s Oil” and half-hearted shots at the Comic Conning of America.
“You know you’re a grown man, right?” Bateman’s character hisses at a nerdy agent (Joe Lo Truglio of “Reno 911!”) a bit too into comics and sci-fi.
One tiresome running gag — everybody thinks Clive and Graeme are gay — very 1996.
As with almost everything Rogen is in, profanity is treated as a sort of self-sufficient punch-line. Here though, he gets to explain it to the fundamentalist, who has taken it up as she joins the “nerds on the lam from Comic Con.”
“Cursing’s fun. you just got to pick your spots,” Paul advises. Rogen could take his own advice. There’s only so much humor you can wring from the f-bomb, even if you are a cute animated alien who is fond of his weed and his anal probe jokes.
See for Yourself
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, the voice of Seth Rogen
Director: Greg Mottola
Running time: 1:44
Rating: R for language including sexual references, and some drug use