The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Seth Rogen provides the voice of Paul.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost love movies, just the same way that you and I love movies. They cherish the rush that comes from high-quality escapist fare. The actors' American breakthrough, Shaun of the Dead (co-written by Pegg and directed by Edgar Wright), paid affectionate homage to zombie pictures, while their follow-up, Hot Fuzz, was a tribute to action flicks. Now with their third feature together, Paul, for which they collaborated on the screenplay, Pegg and Frost tip their hats to the sci-fi genre.

Pegg plays Graeme Willy, and Frost is his best friend Clive Gollings. The two science-fiction buffs excitedly attend San Diego's Comic-Con and follow it up with a road trip to Area 51, the alleged site of alien contact in the 1950's. It is here that they meet Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an actual alien who's been living on Earth for decades. Paul is foul-mouthed and sarcastic, with a fondness for smoking weed. He's trying to outrun a couple of Men in Black (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio), as well as a government agent named Zoil (Jason Bateman), who works for a menacing bureaucrat known as The Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver). After some prodding, Graeme and Clive agree to give Paul a ride in their RV; he wants to be taken to a special location where he can send a “bring me home” signal to his fellow aliens.

The plan hits a small speed bump when they encounter Ruth Buggs (Kristin Wiig), a Fundamentalist Christian trailer park manager whose moral viewpoint is blown to smithereens when she sees the alien. Graeme and Clive have no choice but to take her along, although she eventually decides that she, too, wants to help Paul, even if his existence disproves all that she holds dear. What ensues is a wild chase across the desert.

Paul, like Shaun and Hot Fuzz, enjoys dropping references to the movies it was inspired by. For instance – and I promise this is the only one I'll blow – Graeme and Clive stop to buy snacks at a convenience store, where Paul shouts for them to buy him some Reese's Pieces. Other E.T. nods can be found throughout, as well as some to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Aliens. Unlike the recent spate of annoying spoof movies, Paul doesn't operate in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge fashion; it knows you've seen those films, so the references are weaved in more naturally. The intention isn't to mock, either. Pegg and Frost (and director Greg Mottola) want to honor movies they love. The approach is similar to that of sampling music, in that they take something familiar and beloved, then spin it into something brand new. In addition to being frequently hilarious, it's fun to see how many of the references you can spot.

Make no mistake, though, that Paul also works on its own terms. It creates interesting, likeable characters, and drops them into an assortment of amusing comic situations. A surrogate family forms around the alien, with part of the joke being that Paul ends up with two people who are naturally excited by his existence and one person who is distinctly not. The story additionally gets a lot of mileage out of Paul's persona as a hip, edgy alien – not cuddly like E.T. or menacing like the aliens in other movies. You'd never see E.T. lighting up a doobie or dropping his drawers as a prank.

Pegg and Frost have well-documented chemistry together. They understand each other's rhythms, which allows them to get fully in sync. If you enjoyed their earlier collaborations, you'll dig what they do here too. The characters they portray are all new, but the playful chemistry is the same. The addition of Kristin Wiig just ramps it all up a notch. Her humor meshes well with theirs; at times, Pegg and Frost even play straight men to the actress. Then there's Seth Rogen, who was a good choice to speak for Paul. His wise-assery sets up most of the big comedic moments, and few actors do this kind of thing as well as he does. Under his vocal stylings, Paul feels not like a special effect but like a genuine entity interacting with everyone else.

I'm not going to say that Paul is a great film. It's a good film and a fun film, enthusiastically acted and sharply written. Some things are a tiny bit underdeveloped (i.e. the Sigourney Weaver character's motivations). Also, while never dull, a few stretches earn more chuckles than outright belly laughs. But the belly laughs are definitely there at regular-enough intervals, and an endearing spirit pervades the entire story. Paul cheerfully throws a big old lovefest in honor of the classic alien visitation movies that we all hold near and dear.

( out of four)

Paul is rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.