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Space oddity A pot-smoking, fugitive alien named 'Paul' sets up the laughs in sci-fi spoof

"Paul" is just like one of the flying saucers that dropped the titular little alien off in Area 51 in 1947 -- it takes an awfully long time to lift off.

If you're anything like me, in fact, you'll spend a full 40 minutes cursing the fate that somehow plunked you into a theater seat for such a lurching, inept spoof of all the sci-fi extraterrestrial fantasies that seem to beset the American megaplex (last week, remember, slimy 15-foot aliens invaded Los Angeles and CGI-cartoon Martians decided to kidnap Earth's moms).

But "Paul" -- like several deities in which it rather aggressively refuses to believe -- rewards your kindness and patience. The exact moment you know you're going to be in for some hearty and satisfying laughs after all is this one: Our heroes -- a couple of UFO geeks from across the pond (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) -- have decided to visit Area 51 on their vacation to soak up UFO lore, buy souvenirs, etc.

After, that is, showing up first at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, where they meet their favorite sci-fi writer, "the coolest man in the world" (played by Jeffrey Tambor).

They run afoul of some slack-jawed locals ("This is like 'Deliverance!' ") and meet up with Paul, an extraterrestrial visitor who gets his name from the pet Labrador retriever accidentally killed by his earthly arrival. (Picture a combination of Alf and E.T. with a personality from Mork by way of Richard Pryor and you've got it.)

Paul's sick of assuring earthlings that there will be no southerly "probings" but even so, apparently, many of our fellow earth folks don't handle his presence well. Nevertheless, in his long time on earth he's learned to smoke weed, curse up a storm and now welcomes the protections of Clive and Graeme, the two science-fiction geeks from England.

It's an eventful trip for the boys, what with angry locals and an extraterrestrial hitchhiker but, at this stage, still an awfully tedious and ham-handed cinematic lampoon.

Then the boys come to a trailer park. After a knock on one trailer's door, the inhabitant emerges played by lovely, nutso, Kristen Wiig from "Saturday Night Live."

Remember, they're all in American Born Again territory. She's wearing a sweat shirt on which is written "EVOLVE THIS!"

She's asked who the figures are on her shirt.

"It's Jesus shooting Charles Darwin," she explains cheerily. Yes, with a gun.

After that cheeky bit of satire from the suddenly brazen New Atheism (Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, etc.) you can sit back and relax. You're in good hands. The movie, quite suddenly, locates the comic gas pedal with its oversized clumsy foot and presses down and accelerates continuously.

To prove it -- and to help explain what Paul has been doing in governmental captivity since 1947, the movie makes a quick phone call to the spiritual daddy who's being spoofed most of all, Steven Spielberg himself, whose Reese's Pieces-eating "E.T." was one of the models for Paul and whose "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" provides grist for "Paul's" final lampoon.

That's right. That's the real Spielberg on the other end of a telephone call in a pretty good joke.

It turns into a decent spoofy party for the boys, Pegg and Frost. The duo has been previously known for movies spoofing provincial cop dramas ("Hot Fuzz") and, most memorably of all, zombie movies ("Shaun of the Dead").

Their director this time is Greg Mottola, who made the very successful "Superbad" and the lovable and wonderful little coming-of-age movie "Adventureland" (which, among other things, served notice that we'd be seeing a lot more of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart).

Movie references abound here. By all means take your neighborhood movie geek with you because he or she will be happy to explain them all when they fly through it thick and furious. Leave the neighborhood prune-faces home. The movie just isn't for them.

No one's ever going to accuse this thing of being one of the great comic moments in movie history. Fans of Pegg's nasty, sniggering spoofery will lament that the boys definitely seem to have gone a bit soft on this side of the Atlantic.

But the patient will be rewarded with a very amiable time-waster at their local megaplex -- one with about two or three honest belly laughs no movie need ever be ashamed of.

You've had far worse evenings in moviehouses seeing things purporting to be "funny," believe me.



>Movie Review


Review: Three stars (out of four)

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Sigourney Weaver in a foul-mouthed spoof of extraterrestrial sci-fi movies. Rated R for language including sexual references and some drug use. Opening Friday in area theaters.

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