Are some British comedians on a cinematic crusade to export the widespread atheism of their home country to the shores of the United States and beyond?
The year 2009 gave us Ricky Gervais' malignant fantasy "The Invention of Lying," which presented the existence of God and the idea of an afterlife as just so much wishful thinking. And this year brings the aggressively, though illogically, anti-religious satire "Paul" (Universal) penned by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz").
They play Graeme and Clive, a pair of sci-fi-loving U.K. geeks on a tour of stateside sites associated with their hobby. While driving their rented RV near Nevada's famously secretive military base, Area 51, they encounter the titular spaceman (voice of Seth Rogen), who, as he explains, has just escaped from 60 years of government captivity there.
Recovering from their initial shock, the duo befriend the smart-alecky E.T. -- whose computer-generated image is that of a little green man direct from central casting -- and agree to give him a lift to the spot where he has arranged for his fellow space travelers to rescue him.
Buddy comedy meets road trip adventure meets alien-movie genre spoof; so far so good. Or, at least, not so bad.
When they stop for the night at a trailer park, however, the newfound pals meet -- and Graeme immediately falls for -- the establishment's much-put-upon manager, Ruth (Kristen Wiig).
Raised under the thumb of her fanatically fundamentalist dad, Moses (John Carroll Lynch) -- the stopover's owner -- Ruth shares his religious views sufficiently to sport a T-shirt with a picture of Jesus blowing Charles Darwin away with a gun and the caption "Evolve this!"
But her first sight of Paul instantly shatters Ruth's worldview. And Paul himself assures her that his very existence disproves any traditional version of Judeo-Christian belief. (Unsurprisingly, the reasoning behind all this is never explained.)
Now that there is no God and therefore no sin, Ruth is suddenly free to swear, smoke dope and -- to adopt her own term for it -- fornicate at will. Needless to say, Graeme is pleased by this turn of events, and viewers are clearly meant to cheer Ruth's "liberation" as well.
Perhaps to reinforce the message that science is all we need, Paul is also shown to have the power to heal the wounded and even resurrect the dead. Such gifts are not miraculous, you understand, just the fruit of his intergalactic wisdom. In an additional nugget of sagacity, Paul informs Clive that everyone on his planet is bisexual because, "it's about pleasure."
By assuming that scriptural faith would be fatally undermined by the presence of intelligent life on other planets, Pegg and Frost prove themselves as unfamiliar with biblically based religion as they are contemptuous of it. Yet, however philosophically ill-founded it may be, the militant atheism underlying this otherwise routine offering from director Greg Mottola should inspire believers of all stripes to steer clear.
The film contains an explicit rejection of Christian faith and morals, endorsement of homosexual acts, nonmarital sexual activity and petty theft, a benign view of drug use, occasional gory violence, a few uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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