Paul (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
21Mar/110

Paul (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny DISLIKEIt's often been said that the lowest form of humor is the pun, but I think, thanks to modern technology, mankind has indeed created something more undeniably grotesque: reference humor.

Exemplified by shows like "Family Guy" and "South Park", reference humor comes less from the usual comedy trope of "setup and punchline" and more just the namedrop of something that will surprise the audience. Hell, putting the word "surprise" in there may overestimate the joke: if I started this review with the words, "I had a bad feeling about this", some people would actually laugh at that. Why? I don't fucking know; I'm barely making a nod at a criminally stupid, overused line from Star Wars, but some people think that the evocation of a shared obscure experience is enough for a laugh reflex.

I don't get it.

The new film Paul draws upon a lot of references for its humor, cribbing a lot of the joy from early-80's Steven Spielberg films like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in a vain attempt to create an homage. But homages usually have to stand up on their own: more or less, this is just plagiarism.

You can't tell the difference between the ripped off stuff and the specially created material, either, since their punchlines and setups are older than time immemorial.

Sadly, that may still be the least of Paul's problems. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play a pair of nerds on a roadtrip to famous sites of extraterrestrial landings. Outside a couple of jokes about their sexuality (two guys in an RV? hello gay jokes!), this will be the most you learn about either character. They're mostly just facilitators for the movie's real subject, Paul.

Paul is a space alien played by Seth Rogen as Seth Rogen. He's a stoner, likes to talk about Star Wars and Predator, drinks to get shitfaced, and generally does a whole lot of things one would probably be of sound mind to avoid when being chased by shadowy secret agents.

But that's okay! That's cool! Paul is one of us, man. He's like that surfer dude in his forties who now runs a record store in Long Beach. Nothing can get him down. Hell, Matthew McCoughnehey may be more of a believable space alien than Paul. At least McCoughney has that inexplicably brilliant smile.

If Paul didn't have the appearance of a space alien and a few gimmicky superpowers for a cheap gag or two, you would not actually know he is an alien. His life on earth for 60-odd years has been charmed, and only now, when apparently the evil government wants to dissect him (talk about bureaucratic backlog), does he decide to head home. Not that he misses his old life (or even had one so far as we know), or because he can only just now get rescued. It just has to happen now because it does, okay?

But one of Paul's gimmicky powers is so woefully stupid that it offends me on some level. Besides the ability to return the dead to life (gee, wonder how that will figure into act three), Paul can also impart all of his knowledge and life experience in a touch. This is apparently pretty useless, as the only thing he does with it is take a New Earth Creationist to task with her worldview by smacking her on the head.

This scene, all-in-all, is grossly offensive, as it's handled with no drama, revelation, or impact outside that the woman can now fornicate and swear. Really, lady? That's your reaction to your entire perspective on the universe changing? And what about all that knowledge of alien culture that would surely come with? Nothing?!

And, since the audience is supposed to identify with Paul for some unbelievable reason, are we now all convinced that all it takes to turn a theist to a cool hip atheist is a good smack on the head? This makes C Me Dance's premise of "anyone will become a Christian by watching this girl do ballet" look subtle and nuanced in some ways.

That's right, I unfavorably compared this to C Me Dance. Screw you.

None of the characters are too shocked by Paul, who is about as sanitized as you'd imagine besides the four letter words and his occasional dick joke. He's laid back and completely dull, even when he trots out references to comic books and action flicks to bemuse his nerdish cohorts.

That's because there's a word for Paul that pretty much applies to the entire film: pandering. Moreso than Scott Pilgrim for videogame nerds or The Corpse Bride was aimed at Tim Burton junkies or even Star Trek was made for people that like "Star Trek," Paul is cynically and completely aimed at the Comic-Con savoring, Harry Knowles worshiping, antisocially nerdy underbelly of the internet.

The values expressed in this movie are expressed smugly and unconscionably. The villains are villainous for the sake of being so. The heroes get rich and acquire women simply from the virtue of having gone on this road trip. When Paul jokes at the end that no one really learned any lessons, I'd have to disagree: they just learned all the wrong ones.

I left Paul feeling depressed and disgusted. What an awful, awful thing.

Posted by Danny

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