Review: 'Paul'

(Three-and-a-half stars)

Some of the brightest comedic stars in the galaxy unite for this clever, irreverent and thoroughly entertaining extraterrestrial romp. "Paul" blasts something fresh into the sci-fi genre thanks to its irresistible title character and whimsical -- albeit decidedly adult -- humor.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the quirky British tandem behind 2004's inspired zombie chuckler "Shaun of the Dead," nerd it up for their foray into the American mainstream. Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are unadulterated fanboys from Britain visiting the U.S. and its array of UFO hotspots. They start their journey at the massive San Diego Comic-Con with plans to drive their rented motorhome southeast past Area 51, Roswell and other alien-themed sites.

The geeky pals get an otherworldly shock when a car crashes in front of them on a quiet desert highway. The boys quickly exit to help the driver, only to discover he is an alien named Paul (voiced perfectly by Seth Rogen). Paul resembles the stereotypical alien that Graeme and Clive have seen pictures of for decades: short in stature, large oval head, bulbous eyes and green-hued skin. But his personality is remarkably human. He speaks English perfectly, is sarcastic and moody, smokes the occasional cigarette and isn't afraid to voice his opinions.

Paul convinces his bewildered new buds to help him return to his home planet. Along for the ride is Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), the sheltered daughter of a shotgun-toting Christian fanatic. Meanwhile, Paul and the gang are feverishly pursued by a relentless government agent (Jason Bateman) and his two buffoonish henchmen (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio).

Director Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "Adventureland") lends the film just the right air of carefree playfulness while keeping the adventure elements taut and compelling. The smart screenplay by Pegg and Frost is full of terrific alien allusions. Tongue-in-cheek references to Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), James Cameron's "Aliens" (1986) and other classic sci-fi flicks are consistently witty. At one point during a gas-station stop, Paul evens asks the guys to pick him up some Reese's Pieces.

The casting is excellent across the board. Pegg and Frost are incredibly comfortable with one another, which benefits the development of their characters. Wiig -- one of Hollywood's most under-appreciated comedic talents -- shines in her supporting role, as do Bateman, Hader and Truglio. Entertaining appearances by Jane Lynch (TV's "Glee"), Blythe Danner and Sigourney Weaver also add to the uplifting energy.

But the real treat in "Paul" is Paul himself. Rogen's unmistakable voice is perfectly suited for the vivacious alien, and the animation is fantastic. Paul is defiant yet selfless and empathetic, and has already wiggled his way onto my personal list of favorite movie characters.

"Paul" is aimed primarily at comic-book fans and cosmos-loving adults who aren't easily offended. But the phenomenal cast, funny script and solid pacing help make "Paul" a stellar cinematic excursion for even the most down-to-earth humans.

Rated R for language, including sexual references, and some drug use. 1 hour, 44 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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