Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Greg Mottola (“Adventureland”)
Written by: Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Nick Frost (debut)
In the hands of anyone else but Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and “Paul” might’ve been a disaster on any intergalactic planet. As it is, the alien comedy written by the stars of the incredibly funny zombie rom-com “Shaun of the Dead,” has just enough originality to keep the nerdy movie references and obvious extraterrestrial gags from turning into a shameless sci-fi parody.
In the film, Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, best buddies on a road trip that starts at Comic Con in San Diego and sends them trekking through the heartland of America in their RV in search of the geekiest landmarks they can find. The boys hit the motherload when they come upon a living, breathing alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has escaped a military base after spending the last 30 years kicking back and working as a consultant to help create many of the science fiction classics the world has come to love. Sure, the story is a stretch, but at least a Steven Spielberg voice cameo makes up for some of the narrative’s weaker plot points.
On Paul’s trail is a crack team of the FBI’s finest, led by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) who is looking to recapture the pot-smoking alien before he finds a way to get back home. Actors Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio round out the agents with little panache. Kristen Wiig also can’t seem to find her footing as the religious daughter of a trailer park owner who is forced to go along on the harmless misadventure.
Directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Adventureland”), raunchy humor takes a backseat to the jokes and scenarios fanboys will be glad to see pop up on screen, including references to “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “E.T.” It’s not nearly close to the laughfest the Pegg/Frost combo has been in the past, but it is passable entertainment for those moviegoers who would throw a fit if someone misidentified Jango Fett for Boba Fett. If that last sentence made any sense, “Paul” will probably play to perfection in your personal geekdom.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader
Directed by: Greg Mottola (“Superbad”)
Written by: Greg Mottola (“The Daytrippers”)
Thematically speaking, “Adventureland,” the new comedy by “Superbad” director Greg Mottola, is fairly familiar. It’s a coming-of-age story that doesn’t necessarily break new ground but is so conscious of its own sensitive nature, each character the script introduces is like seeing a good friend after a long break.
If you’re looking for another hilariously raunchy night out with the boys like you got with “Superbad,” you’re not going to find it here. In “Adventureland,” there are shades of Mottola’s witty and bawdy sense of humor, but most of it (aside from some of the few repetitious jokes) fades nicely into the entire story.
Set in Pittsburgh in 1987, “Adventureland” follows recent college graduate and self-admitting virgin James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, AKA Michael Cera-lite, who was great in The Squid and the Whale) as he is forced to get a summer job when his father is demoted from his job. Instead of spending the summer traveling Europe with his friend and discovering himself, James must now save up as much money as possible if he still plans to move to New York and attend Colombia University to major in journalism.
With an undergraduate degree in comparative literature, which he says “doesn’t even qualify him for manual labor,” James settles for a lame position working game booths at the tacky local theme park. There he meets a cast of characters including love interest Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), a NYU student who hates her stepmother and seems to be just passing the time. Martin Starr (“Freaks and Geeks”) plays nerdy friend Joel, one of the only intelligent beings working at the park, and a miscast Ryan Reynolds is Mike Connell, the grown-up maintenance guy whose claim to fame was jamming out with Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed a few years prior.
Less about the actual theme park and more about relationships and love triangles between new acquaintances, “Adventureland” is different because it spotlights the awkwardness everyone still find themselves battling even when they’re away from the cliché high school backdrop. Director Mottola is working with young adults here, not teenagers, who have come to the realization that life may never get better than what they are currently experiencing. It’s a darkly funny combination of charming romantic comedy plot points, modest 80s references, and an underlying depressing motif that makes the film feel all the more satisfying.