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Sci-fi, according to 'Paul'

Published March 30. 2011 05:00PM

The movie, "Paul," has a great title, is very funny and has a sweet storyline.

Of course, you might say that this reviewer is biased about the title.

I happened to see the movie, "Paul," on the birth date of my late father, whose name is also Paul, and who would've been 105 on March 19.

Still, "Paul" is one of those movies that exceeds expectations.

The title character, Paul (voiced robustly and gleefully by Seth Rogen) is an extraterrestrial from an unspecified galaxy who has been kept as a consultant at a top-secret military installation of the United States government.

Two comic-book fans from Great Britain, Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, respectively), meet Paul when he crashes his stolen black Ford Crown Victoria.

Graeme and Clive are on a road trip in a rented recreational vehicle to visit legendary UFO sites (Area 51, Nevada; Roswell, N.M.) in the American southwest after they attend Comic-Con, the annual comic-book convention held in San Diego.

At the Pearly Gates RV Park, Paul is seen by Ruth ("Saturday Night Live"'s inestimable Kristen Wiig). Because Paul doesn't want her to contact authorities, he uses a sort of mind control to bring her along for the RV ride. Her father (John Carroll Lynch) is in hot pursuit.

Also tracking them is a government agent (always great Jason Bateman) and two government agents ("Saturday Night Live"'s hilarious deadpan Bill Hader and a not-so-funny Joe Lo Truglio.

In the first hour or so, I was making mental notes about how much funnier "Paul" could have been with, say, Jim Carrey and Mike Meyers in the lead roles.

But then as the movie progressed, I could see the wisdom of casting two relative unknowns Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at least to the mainstream United States' movie-going public as leads. They don't take way from the comedy with famous actor baggage, shtick or preconceived audience perceptions.

Also, their neutral, downplayed and flat performances give room for the supporting actors to be all the more funnier, and also let the story itself be the focus.

And, since Pegg and Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," 2004: "Hot Fuzz," 2007) wrote the screenplay, why shouldn't they star?

"Paul" is a mash-up of a road movie, chase film, science-fiction film and romantic comedy. It has elements of a Coen Brother's film ("Raising Arizona" comes to mind), as well as "Men in Black" and even Steven Spielberg' s "Duel" (to which there's an homage in one shot when it's listed on a small-town movie theater marquee).

The comedy is rife with send ups and jokey references to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (Devils Tower national monument locale), "E.T." (Paul requests Reese's Pieces be purchased for him at a convenience store) and "Star Wars" (a bluegrass band plays the "Cantina Song" in a scene at a bar).

The screenplay has some depth to it. While the results are humorous, the plot neatly pivots on Intelligent Design versus Evolution.

Director Greg Mottola ("Superbad," 2007; "Adventureland," 2009) picks up the pace and the movie actually gets better as it goes along.

The Computer Generated Imagery that created Paul combines flawlessly with the live action. Not for one minute to you doubt that Paul the alien is real.

"Paul" has some brief appearances by some great actors, including Blythe Danner as a housewife, Jeffrey Tambor as a science fiction author, Jane Lynch as a diner waitress, and a female science fiction film star we won't reveal here and spoil the surprise.

"Paul" is the kind of movie that will be enjoyed even more so after repeated viewings. My son, Elias, who accompanied me to the screening, already wants to get a copy of "Paul" when it's released on DVD.

A note about the movie's rating: The use of obscenities is one of the running jokes in "Paul." The frequent use of the F-bomb I stopped counting at one dozen is probably what mainly resulted in the R rating.

That's too bad and somewhat, ahem, a-"Paul"ing.

"Paul," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language including sexual references, and some drug use; Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction; Run time: 1 hr., 44 min.; Distributed by Universal.

Credit Readers Anonymous: That voice that sounds like that of Steven Spielberg in one scene in "Paul" is, in fact, the voice of Steven Spielberg.

Box Office, March 18: On the first weekend of spring when many may have wanted to be outside, "Limitless" opened at No. 1 with $19 million.

2. "Rango," $15.3 million, $92.5 million, three weeks; 3."Battle: Los Angeles," dropped from No. 1, $14.6 million, $60.6 million, two weeks; 4."The Lincoln Lawyer," $13.4 million, opening; 5. "Paul," $13.1 million, opening; 6. "Red Riding Hood," $7.2 million, $25.9 million, two weeks; 7. "The Adjustment Bureau," $5.9 million, $48.7 million, three weeks; 8. "Mars Needs Moms," $5.3 million, $15.4 million, two weeks; 9. "Beastly," $3.2 million, $22.2 million, three weeks; 10. "Hall Pass," $2.6 million, $39.6 million, four weeks

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Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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