The issue with Paul is that its titular alien, voiced by Seth Rogan, simply doesn’t work. Good voice actors actually do a little something called “acting,” which isn’t how one can describe Rogan’s work in this film. There wasn’t one moment when I believed that the alien was a real character, and it’s mostly thanks to the fact that it sounds just like Rogan and acts like many of his on-screen personas.
I know that you’re not looking for realism in a film with an English-speaking alien, but a lot of my potential enjoyment of this movie was ruined by the fact that around every turn, I saw Seth Rogan and not an alien. I understand why Rogan was the actor of choice to voice Paul, as the slacker and profane alien fits almost perfectly with Rogan’s skill set, but because the actor did nothing to separate the character from himself, I was distracted for the entirety of the film.
That’s too bad, because there’s some form of genius going on throughout parts of Paul. Here is a road movie that’s going to reference as many science fiction films as it can given its 100 minutes running time. It also stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, two men who have starred and co-written some funny films in the past. There’s a lot going for this movie, and if you can get over Rogan pretty much ruining every scene that includes the alien, it’s quite enjoyable.
We begin at the San Diego Comic-Con International, meeting our two comic book fans, Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost). They’ve traveled to America for the first time in their lives, coming for both this convention and also to take a sight-seeing tour of America’s famous UFO hotspots. They have a route planned and are going to make the most of their vacation time. Oh, and they’re not a gay couple; the film makes many jokes about it, but they continually have to tell every other character that they’re just friends. It’s totally important, trust me.
Unfortunately for them, they’re about to have an extraterrestrial experience of their own. Or maybe that should read “fortunately,” as after the initial shock, at least one of them warms to the alien. His name is Paul (Rogan), and is named after a dog who was crushed when his spaceship crashed. He has recently escaped from a facility, and tells the duo to head north, or he will be captured and killed.
After they begin on their journey, they begin getting chased by a whole group of people. The first group consists of three people: A Special Agent by the name of Zoil (Jason Bateman), and two clueless Agents named Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio). Eventually, the two comic fans and alien pick up a devout Christian woman, Ruth (Kristen Wiig), giving her father (John Carroll Lynch) reason to also chase after them. Finally, two hillbillies, while not exactly chasing the group, run into them a couple of times and want them dead, or at least in pain.
So, we have a few reasons for the characters to always be on the run, we have a couple of ordinary dudes thrown into an extraordinary situation, and we have an unconventional alien. This seems like a good premise, and for the most part, it works. At least, everything that doesn’t involve the alien works, and even then, a few changes to Paul’s character would have allowed him to gel with the film instead of standing out and being a distraction.
It also seemed as if Paul was created primarily for the purpose of allowing Pegg and Frost to share a love letter directed toward a ton of older science fiction films, with Steven Speilberg’s (who has a cameo) movies in particular. There are some of you out there who will catch most of the references, and you are the type of person who should seek out Paul as soon as possible, because you’ll have a blast with it. If you’re not quite enamored with this type of film or culture, you might want to give it a pass, because Rogan’s alien will be too annoying to tolerate.
When Paul works best is when it’s taking shots at different aspects of human life which the alien doesn’t quite understand, or which he thinks are silly. Organized religion is probably going to be the one that most people talk about after the movie ends, and the film is sure to make sure its position is known regarding that. Is it offensive? Yeah, it kind of is, and it’s interesting to see a film actually go all the way there. While I can see that putting off some audience members, I think it ultimately works to Paul‘s advantage because it means that there’s actually something to take from it, one way or another.
I enjoyed parts of Paul, but Seth Rogan’s annoying and effortless (not in a good way) voice acting kind of ruined the experience for me. While the slacker alien was the point of the character, it didn’t work and either Rogan needed to do something to make Paul seem like a new character, or the character itself needed a re-write. Once you get past that, there’s some genuinely entertaining material, and enough sci-fi references to satisfy entire generations of fans of the genre. Unless you can either ignore or appreciate Seth Rogan, I can’t necessarily recommend Paul. If you can do that, however, you’ll probably have a blast.