Simon Pegg and Nick Frost built up gallons of good will with their genre parodies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
The British duo squander plenty of it with Paul, their new comedy about two geeks trying to save an alien from the government’s clutches.
Paul’s mean-spirited mockery of Christianity won’t endear it to audiences with even a sprinkling of religion. But Paul’s bigger sin is the lack of genuinely sharp humor, the kind that lifted Shaun and Fuzz above the likes of those lazy Scary Movie-style parodies.
The film does amass major geek points by paying nonstop homage to sci-fi classics like Star Wars and ET, but ultimately a film must stand on its own. By the time a classic line from Aliens is recycled it’s hard not to think, “OK, enough. Your VHS collection rocks. Move on.”
Pegg and Frost play Graeme and Clive, two Brits visiting San Diego for a Comic-Con event and the chance to visit some real-life UFO sites. Their rented RV is nearly run off the road by a car driven by a runaway alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). Seems Paul is trying to get back home but an tireless FBI agent (Jason Batemen) wants to capture him first.
The affable alien has spent the last few decades sharing his otherworldly wisdom with the government. Now, with nothing left to share, agents want to literally wring the last bits of information out of him.
That won’t happen if our lovable Brits can keep Paul a few steps ahead of the law.
Along the way they pick up a one-eyed fundamentalist named Ruth (Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig), whose faith gets shaken by the very sight of a pot-smoking alien.
Paul is aggressively anti-Christian despite the protestations of its cast members. One might forgive Wiig’s character, who sports a shirt with Jesus blowing away Charles Darwin, for being a conduit for a steady stream of jokes. Once Ruth casts aside her religion she starts spewing vulgarities with abandon, a tic Wiig nails with her droll delivery.
The real punishing caricature is Ruth’s fundamentalist father, a man given few lines but a constant, razed look in his eye. By the final reel he’s committed a horrific act which only underlines how the film’s creators see “his kind.”
And if that doesn’t cinch matters, another character dismisses people of faith with a tossed off line, “you can’t win with these people.”