For a lightweight comedy about two unconventional dudes sheltering a fugitive space alien, "Paul" sure comes weighted down with conventional movie "values."
We all know the list by now: It's better to be socially inept and unkempt than neat and responsible; authority figures are creeps; pot is liberating; shoplifting is cool; it's wiser to trust in conspiracy theories than mass religion; profanity is hilarious, especially when served in long strings; and it doesn't matter what chaos you cause if your heart is pure.
The messaging is not too surprising, since "Paul" comes from some of the same gang that gave us the irreverent "Shaun of the Dead." It reunites the amiable British acting team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also provided the story, and it was directed in Hollywood by Greg Mottola of "Superbad" fame.
Less expected from a movie coming with all those comedy credentials is that the forward momentum here is rather halting, and that the level of humor stoops so often to bodily urges, sci-fi trivia and a trendy elitist brand of anti-Christian bigotry.
Pegg and Frost play a pair of lovable British geeks who have pooled their money to attend a sci-fi convention in the U.S. and to go on a pilgrimmage to Roswell and other meccas of UFO mythology. As the screenplay has it, the two are on a desolate ribbon of desert highway when they cross paths with Paul, a 3-foot-tall alien with a huge head and the most jaundiced view of humanity since Howard the Duck.
Paul, voiced by shlubby comic everyman Seth Rogen, has just run away from a government compound after some six decades of captivity. He enlists our heroes' aid in getting him to a rendezvous point ahead of some doggedly dense federal agents. The team of federales is headed by ever-resolute Jason Bateman, who has his private motive for the hunt.
But Bateman is Mr. Sensitivity himself when compared to a local Christian fundamentalist named Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch). Moses Buggs is painted as a beer-swilling, trigger-happy trailer park hick who would have gladly murdered Charles Darwin over his blasphemous theory of evolution. When his naive, brainwashed daughter (Kristen Wiig) is lured from the fold by the fugitive band, Moses grabs his shotgun and takes up the chase. Whatever became of the notion of the Christian peacemaker tasked with loving his enemies and forgiving the trespasses of others?
Well, you just don't see those in modern movies any more. "Moses Buggs" as a caricature is nothing short of today's equivalent of a blackface lampoon employed to mock and belittle a segment of society for what it believes. It's high time Hollywood was called on it.
"Paul" arrives on DVD Aug. 9 from Universal Studios Home Video, and contains both the R-rated theatrical version and an unrated version. It retails for $34.98 and also has bonus features like a blooper reel, a commentary track, photo galleries and added behind-the-scenes humor from Pegg and Frost. A Blu-ray Disc edition is more loaded with extras, like BD Live and numerous "making of" shorts, and is priced at $48.99. The movie is also available for digital downloading, at varying prices.
More contagion on tap
This summer's most effective video chiller-thrillers thus far are "Insidious" and "The Reef." But coming up hard in a tight, nay, claustrophobic, three-way race is the very adroitly done sequel, "Quarantine 2: Terminal" (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, DVD $26.99).
Taking up where the first film ended, it finds a group of airline passengers checking in for a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, unaware of the contagion that has broken out in a downtown tenement. Alas, someone has brought that contagion aboard; and while it is incubating and we are waiting for others to turn into bloodthirsty killers, we can savor the suspense and drama — thanks to the more-than-competent management of cast and crew.
Making all this more than just two hours of "shakes on a plane" is the act-two development of a forced landing, after which the zombies run wild in a sealed-off airplane hangar. John G. Pogue directs the cast of fresh faces with both authority and smarts.
Discipline — especially the brand of discipline administered by single moms — is targeted in more ways than one by the new animated sci-fi adventure "Mars Needs Moms" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, DVD $29.99; Blu-ray Combo Pack $39.99; also available in a four-disc 3-D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack for $49.99).
It introduces us to an underground Martian society hobbled and dominated by a tyrannical queen who places a premium on Earthling mothers for instilling a work ethic in their young. The queen wants to tap into that source of empowerment — though why exactly is the question left hanging.
In any case, when the Martians come for the mother of 9-year-old Milo (voiced by Seth Green), the boy steals aboard the ship and plots her rescue with the help of a nerdy resistance fighter and a friendly Martian girl. It's all executed with the aid of computers via motion-capture technology, a la "Polar Express."
What it never much resembles is a comedy. In this galaxy, there are light years between laughs. But it may divert kids old enough not to be scared out of their wits by its "at-risk" moms theme.
Also new and notable
"The Fox and the Hound" & "The Fox and the Hound II" (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, a two-disc DVD set $29.99; Blu-ray Combo Pack $39.99). The 30th anniversary re-issue of the first "Fox and the Hound" is great to see on high-definition video. Colors and black levels are enhanced, clarity is improved, and the much-welcomed DTS-HD master audio is both forceful and subtle.
Packaged with the 2006 made-for-video spinoff, the Disney folks have dubbed this collector's edition "two timeless tales of true friendship," but "Fox and the Hound II" won't seem timeless to anyone old enough to tell time. The first movie is a bittersweet parable of the pain that class division causes in a rigid society that doesn't allow for freedom of choice. The sequel is more of a lightweight kids' entertainment about a pack of country mongrels who start a country-western band.
Extras include individual looks back at the two films' makings, music videos and a cute featurette on unlikely real-life animal friendships.
"The Perfect Game" (Image Entertainment, rated PG, DVD $27.97; Blu-ray Disc $29.97). How forgiving are you of formula sports stories taken from real life but given a complete Hollywood makeover? If you can't get enough of them, here's another that will probably inspire a lump in your throat (or maybe nine).
Clifton Collins Jr. stars as a bitter, washed-up ballplayer who is finagled into coaching a Little League franchise in his native Mexico. The ragtag team goes on to compete against the better-equipped American teams, whose coaches and managers are too often painted as one-dimensional racists. It's worth watching, though, just to see Cheech Marin play a humble village padre whose prayers help guide the team to triumph.
There's a bonus director's commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature as well.