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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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Greg Mottola has earned a lot of brownie points in my book for directing both Johnny Crawford at Age 17: The Movie (Superbad) and Johnny Crawford at Age 20: The Movie (Adventureland), so I’d happily overlook a misstep in his career, no matter how atrocious. His most recent film, Paul, is far from being that misstep, but it is a film so vanilla, so beige, so infuriatingly middle-of-the-road that part of me almost wishes he’d directed a pure flop.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play a couple of British nerds who plan to go on a pilgrimage around American UFO sites following a trip to Comic-Con. On the way, they run into the titular CGI Alien (throatily-voiced by Seth Rogen), freshly escaped from Area 51 and needing a ride to a rendezvous point so he can return to his people before being caught by Federal Agents.

A comedy in theory, there is not a single big laugh to be found in this film; that said, most jokes are at least worthy of a giggle, if middlebrow and inoffensive. This unremarkable competence extends to all areas of production. With reliable leads, supported by the similarly serviceable Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman and Sigourney Weaver, there isn’t a bad performance but, similarly, there fails to be a memorable one. Paul’s uninspired character design comes straight out of a Dreamworks film, the film pays loving but obvious homage to the mainstream sci-fi canon and the characters are barely two-dimensional. For example, when Paul uses his psychic powers to prove evolution to Wiig’s evangelical Christian, she becomes a born-again atheist, going from a one-note bible-basher to a one-note attempted badass who like to “curse and fornicate” without so much as a comedic crisis of faith.

Perhaps the one area in which this film transcends mind-numbing mediocrity is its action scenes; its fleeting fights and car chases are reasonably well directed and provide some much valued excitement in a film that is essentially the cinematic equivalent of Diet Coke.

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