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Review: 'Paul' settles for silly when it could have been great

"Paul"

Seth Rogen voices the alien Paul. (Universal)

“Paul” (Rated R, Universal, out on DVD and Blu-ray today) – There’s a great comedy inside “Paul” just screaming to get out.

But an uneven tone (and an uneven script) keep it from reaching its full potential.

It starts off with promise as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (both of “Shaun of the Dead” fame and the film’s writers) fulfill a lifelong dream with a trip to San Diego Comic Con and then rent an RV for a tour of UFO hotspots.

Pegg plays Graeme, an artist, and Frost is his BFF Clive, a writer struggling with his sophomore effort.

On the road, they wind up meeting Paul, an escaped extraterrestrial trying to get … somewhere. Fainting and screaming ensue. Then they help the crude little guy (voiced by Seth Rogen) on his journey.

They’re pursued by special agent Lorenzo Zoyle (say it out loud — there’s an obscure joke in there), played by Jason Bateman, and a couple more bumbling feds.

Along the way, they meet the lovely Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a fundamentalist young woman who quickly learns the joy of swearing.

At one point, Paul tells her, “Cursing’s fun — you just gotta pick your moments.”

At first, I thought the film should take its own advice and more carefully pick its own moments. But it’s not that there’s too much swearing or crudeness or whatnot. It’s just what’s there isn’t that funny. A lame, recurring “mistaken for gay” joke doesn’t help. (If you want more swearing and crudeness, there’s an unrated cut on the disc, but I don’t think that will help.)

So you wind up with an R-rated comedy that, with a bit more skill, could have been a hilarious PG-13 comedy, which is all the premise really calls for.

And it’s a great premise. These characters were born to run into Paul, but inspiration just eludes them. The emotional notes are too easy and cliche. The humor is too often obvious and, at times, forced.

It does mine some decent laughs, though, from the myriad sci-fi pop culture references sprinkled throughout, from “Mack and Me” to “Star Wars” and a chat with Steven Spielberg.
Pegg and Frost are just kind of coasting on silly here. And that’s disappointing because I loved their “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”

All in all, I’d still say it’s worth a rental. Just don’t think too much about what it could have been. GRADE: C+

Eric Henrickson is a Detroit News copy editor who has also been writing about comic books, video games and anime for The News for more than 10 years. His favorite bit of geek cred so far: appearing in an online "Star Trek" fan series.