‘Paul’ pleases with an assortment of cliches

Tyler McGinty

In 1982, E.T. had to phone home. In 2011, Paul is more likely to make a prank phone call.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up to co-star and, for the first time, co-write for their third feature film together. However, “Paul,” also written by Pegg and Frost, seems to be missing a key ingredient from “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”: director and co-writer Edgar Wright. I’m not sure how much of an effect Wright would have had, but his absence is still notable.

Like Pegg and Frost’s previous films, “Paul” takes a genre and simultaneously picks apart all its shortcomings and clichés while also paying homage to it. “Shaun of the Dead” did this for zombie movies. “Hot Fuzz” did this for buddy cop movies. “Paul” does this for alien movies.

The plot echoes that of “E.T.” in that humans discover an alien who wants help finding home. However, instead of a small boy finding a cute alien, it is Graeme Willy (played by Pegg) and Clive Gollings (played by Frost), two British science fiction fans, and Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) is anything but cute.

As Willy, Gollings and Paul travel to the landing spot for Paul’s rescue craft, federal agents played by Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio, pursue them. Bateman gives an interesting performance as the incredibly strict and bad-tempered Agent Zoil. Usually, Bateman plays the nice guy in his movies, so it was surprising that he would be cast as that character, but not as surprising as him pulling it off amazingly well.

However, Hader and Lo Truglio’s performances as Zoil’s subordinate agents weren’t surprising at all. If you’ve seen these actors in any Judd Apatow movie, then you know how they act. Their characters seemed a bit too slapstick, and it detracted somewhat from the movie.

The tone of their scenes contrasted greatly with the tone of the scenes with Pegg, Frost, and Rogen. The styles of humor were just different enough for the switches to be a little jarring. This may have been done on purpose, but it didn’t seem to work.

The CGI work on the alien was outstanding. It’s always difficult to insert something computer generated into a live-action film without it looking a little ridiculous. However, “Paul” looks great, and it was surprising that the film had the special effects budget to pull it off.

The biggest problem the movie had was the handling of Kristen Wiig and John Carrol Lynch’s characters. Wiig plays an ultra-conservative Christian who lives with her equally conservative father in the trailer park they own and operate.

After Wiig’s character meets Paul, and is exposed to all the secrets of the universe, she renounces her faith.

This whole characterization seemed preachy and forced. It’s doubtful that this exaggerated stereotype of the Christian right was necessary to the plot, and seems like Pegg and Frost wanted to get a jab in at their expense.

“Paul” may be my least favorite of Pegg’s films so far, but it was still enjoyable. The biggest complaint is just that it wasn’t as good as “Hot Fuzz” or “Shaun of the Dead.” Still, it left me wondering what happened to director Edgar Wright, and why wasn’t he on this project?