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Fox Mulder would be ticked.
For nine seasons or so, the dour X-Files agent braved monsters, demons, governmental conspiracies, ambiguous romantic tension with FBI partners and dwindling ratings, all in the hopes of finding irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial life. If an interstellar being somehow escaped from Area 51 and introduced itself to the wider world, you'd think the one person it'd seek out to probe—er, shake hands with would be Mulder.
But noooooo. When an alien does finally escape from that infamous area, who does he first run into (almost literally)? Two geeky British tourists in a Winnebago.
They're clearly undeserving of such an honor. For all their sci-fi graphic novels and alien bumper stickers, Graeme and Clive have no clue how to interroga—er, interact with their short, gray, bug-eyed visitor. Do they ask how to navigate hyperspace? About the astroeconomic and political systems currently in vogue in the Gamma quadrant? Where the guy actually comes from? No. Instead, they let the alien—Paul—drive the conversation, and occasionally the Winnebago. (He's heading to Wyoming so he can phone home.)
I suppose we can understand, from Paul's point of view, why he'd be less than forthcoming. After all, he'd been talking to his Area 51 "hosts" for the last 60-some years, and after they'd finally decided he'd spilled all the interstellar beans he could, they'd decided the only thing left to do was dissect him. It makes sense why Paul would want to split town—and planet—as quick as possible.
Still, couldn't he have waited just a bit longer? Maybe called up Mulder and given him the tip? Alas, Mulder must assuage his pain with the knowledge that the truth really is out there—and it's in someone else's RV.
Paul seems nice enough. Granted, he's a bit more laid-back than we'd expect from an advanced alien civilization, more inclined to tell stories around a campfire than build a flux capacitor from old chewing gum wrappers. But when the going gets tough, he does what he can to be tough and get going. When he comes across Ruth Buggs, who's blind in one eye, he heals her. And he shows a willingness to risk his life for his new pals—even if it means he might never ever leave terra firma.
Clive and Graeme are pretty good blokes, too, willing to rejigger their long-dreamed-of road trip in order to help their new space friend.
As light and inconsequential as it may look from the trailers, Paul pulls a Han Solo and fires a blaster at Christianity. And there's no question who pulls the trigger first.
En route to Wyoming, Clive, Graeme and Paul run into Ruth and her Bible-toting father at an RV camp. Ruth and her pops live in a hovel saturated by telltale signs of a kitschy faith (including what looks like a paint-by-number picture of Jesus), and we hear Ruth's dad bellow at her to "pray." Ruth wears a shirt that shows Jesus shooting Charles Darwin in the head and reads, "Evolve This!"
Ruth asks if Graeme and Clive are believers and launches into a dissertation on fundamentalist faith, including how people are alone in the universe and molded in God's image. Paul hears that and leaps from his hiding spot in the bathroom, saying, "How do you explain me?!" He then zaps Ruth with a mind-meld, transferring all his society's accumulated knowledge (which, had he done the same trick in Area 51, would've saved everyone about 60 years of interrogation).
The trio drives off with Ruth, who has passed out, prompting Paul to fret, "Kidnapping a Christian is worse than harboring a fugitive." When she comes to, Paul "apologizes" for shaking her faith. Reality doesn't negate religion, he explains … just the monotheistic ones.
Down the road, Ruth processes the quantum change in her outlook: "No heaven? No hell? No good or evil?" And having been "freed" from (what the movie paints as) her religious bondage, she takes full advantage—swearing like crazy, smoking pot and grabbing Graeme's private parts. In the end, she thanks Paul, who has, we're shown, not only cured her literal blindness but her supposed intellectual myopia as well.
Ruth's father is not freed from his faith and is, predictably, painted as a buffoonish bad guy. When he realizes his daughter's gone (taken by the devil, he says), he pursues her—Bible in one hand, shotgun in the other. "I'm on a mission from God!" he bellows at a government agent on the highway. "Tell Him you failed!" the agent says, shooting him. But the bullet doesn't kill him. Later, he shoots someone full-on in the chest with his shotgun. And when the victim is raised from the dead—via one of Paul's abilities he credits to "evolution"—Pops calls it a "miracle."
"Can't win with these people," Paul says. And when the father tells him, "God be with you," Paul brushes it off with a "Yeah, whatever."
Graeme and Clive are often mistaken for a homosexual couple during their trip. One man asks if the two are on their honeymoon (when they answer a hotel door wearing the complimentary bathrobes); two others heckle them in a bar. Paul asks about their sexuality too—making a variety of crude, suggestive motions before finally blurting out the word gay. When they insist that they're not, Paul tells them that on his planet everyone is bisexual: "It's all about the pleasure, you know what I'm saying?" A gay gag involves a former president. An ancillary character reveals herself to be a lesbian.
Clive totes around a graphic novel that features a green alien with three partially exposed breasts. Several people see the magazine and comment on it, using crude terminology. When Paul turns himself invisible, he strips off his clothes. (We see his CGI buttocks, and several people comment on other parts of his anatomy.) Several convention-goers wear Princess Leia-style bikinis. Clive has a thing for short women dressed as Ewoks.
Someone grabs Paul's groin. Religion-free Ruth says she plans on "doing a lot of kissing and fornicating," accepting Graeme's offer to help her practice. (We see the two kiss.)
The bloody wound gets screen time when somebody is shot in the chest. Paul cures the injury, temporarily absorbing, then showcasing the wound on his own body. He revives a dead bird only to swallow it whole. Several soldiers are shot and later healed. One character is crushed by a set of interplanetary stairs. A spaceship kills a dog. A car driven by an agent plummets off a cliff, exploding. A house blows up with someone inside it. Later, we see the man alive, his face disfigured by burns.
The film's heroes engage in a climactic fight—one that involves hitting, biting and occasionally shooting. Clive and Graeme mistakenly drive their RV into the side of someone's truck—twice. Paul crashes a car (it explodes) and runs the Winnebago into telephone poles. A boy hits a government agent in the crotch, incapacitating him. Tear gas is used. There are several references to alien probing.
Crude or Profane Language
"Cursing's fun!" Paul advises Ruth. "You just gotta pick your moments." She doesn't, and neither does anyone else. And that's why the film sports nearly 50 f-words, 40 s-words and practically every other nasty word in the book, too, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "fag," "bloody" and several obscene terms for body parts. A picture of Paul flipping the bird, emblazoned with the slogan "F‑‑‑ you," makes several appearances.
God's name is misused about 10 times, thrice with "d‑‑n," and Jesus' name is abused once. Someone says "Holy Mary Mother of God." Someone else tries to use "Satan" as a profanity.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Paul has a penchant for marijuana, using a particular batch so strong that it "killed Dylan." He shares it with Ruth, who races through the stereotypical symptoms of being high in about 30 seconds before falling asleep. A woman, when her house blows up, mourns the loss of her "weed."
Paul also smokes tobacco and—along with his friends—drinks beer, sometimes getting drunk in the process.
Other Negative Elements
When Clive first meets Paul, he faints, but not before wetting his pants. Agents make note of the trousers (one of them tasting the urine). A boy steals a comic book from a store—with all sorts of encouragement from Paul. Graeme and Clive steal a carton of fireworks.
Paul is an R-rated romp laced with crude sexuality, drug abuse and high-powered profanity. Given the rating, you probably guessed as much. I sure did. When I walked into the theater, I thought I knew what to expect.
But I wasn't prepared for the religious broadside Paul serves up—and I wonder if it, in so doing, miscalculates its audience.
"I'd want to take some of my friends," I heard someone say on the way out the door, "but did you see how blasphemous it was? I don't think they'd like it."
Remember, more than 80% of Americans believe in God. Sure, Paul is intended for the out-and-proud geek set—folks with an unabashed love for Gene Roddenberry and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe—and perhaps Superbad director Greg Mottola believes these sci-fi fans are more secular than the population as a whole. But he probably hasn't been reading Plugged In's Facebook page and blog posts much lately. Because if he had, he might have noticed that lots of Christians groove on Dr. Who, tune into The Big Bang Theory and study maps of Middle Earth in their spare time.
Paul tells us that advanced civilizations have outgrown the concept of God—at least a Christian God. But here's what I find most interesting about its point of view: In attempting to strip away one religion, we've been given another.
The popularity of aliens and UFOs in pop culture has been attributed, by some, to folks trying to replace traditional faith with a more scientific form of religion, complete with rewards (knowledge), punishments (probes!) and awe-struck wonder. Consider Paul—his characteristics, not his character: He's a being from another place, a creature filled with unimaginable knowledge and incredible power. He heals the sick, he raises the dead, he helps the blind to see. He holds (the film suggests) the promise of a better world—one full of peace and love and community, free from strife and sin.
And yet Paul does not appear to everyone. Indeed, he reveals himself only to a select few … disciples. And those to whom he shows himself are often mocked, even persecuted sometimes.
We meet a woman to whom Paul revealed himself 60 years prior. Now old, she's angry with Paul at first, telling him how the neighbor kids would make fun of her, throw rocks at her window. They would not believe her and her "alien" stories, and in time she had perhaps begun to doubt her own memories. But then she softens. Seeing Paul now, face-to-face, everything's fine again. Her faith—following an unseen, unfelt visitor—is validated.
If you haven't connected the dots yet, what I'm getting at is Paul's status as a deity. But what a slovenly deity he is: Little more than a "greater" being who, when he gives his friends the sum of all his knowledge, doesn't change them a whit; an advanced entity less concerned with mankind's betterment than with the pot he's carrying and the partying he's planning.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Simon Pegg as Graeme Willy; Nick Frost as Clive Gollings; Kristen Wiig as Ruth Buggs; Jason Bateman as Agent Zoil; Bill Hader as Haggard; Joe Lo Truglio as O'Reilly; Seth Rogen as the voice of Paul
March 18, 2011
August 9, 2011