Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost) are sci-fi geeks who realise their dream to drive a Winnebago across the American Southwest visiting UFO hotspots to re-enact favourite movie and TV scenes. Then they stumble across an actual alien named Paul (voiced by Rogen as an Alf-style wisenheimer). They agree to help him get home, but are hotly pursued by a tenacious Man in Black (Bateman) and two X-Files agents (Hader and Lo Truglio). They are also joined by someone who's even more alien to them: devout one-eyed creationist Ruth (Wiig), who Paul calls a "God-bothering cyclops".
Pegg and Frost maintain the earthy humour of their earlier films, with constant gags that are delivered with impeccable timing. And Mottola assembles the film beautifully, maintaining a brisk pace while allowing the characters to develop in surprising ways. The plot is essentially a mash-up of E.T. and Close Encounters, with a continual barrage of nods to the genre. Some are extremely subtle, but most are broad or random.
One problem is that a late appearance from sci-fi icon Weaver reminds us of Galaxy Quest, a genre comedy that used original humour to augment the spoof elements. Pegg and Frost, on the other hand, hang everything on their fanboy credentials, as each scene (and rather a lot of dialog) is a play on another film. Besides the work of Steven Spielberg there's also, of course, rather a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars, including a particularly witty use of the Cantina Bar theme.
Ultimately, what wins us over is the terrific chemistry between Pegg and Frost; Graeme and Clive are so hilariously inseparable that most people think they're a gay couple. Naturally, they need to inject a rather sweet rom-com into the plot to make sure we know they're not. Fortunately, this gives Wiig the film's best role. On the other hand, Danner's foul-mouthed appearance only reminds us that most of the jokes are of the relatively cheap variety. Not that this keeps us from laughing.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th March 2011
Box Office USA: $37.4M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 140 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Paul Muller as Himself
Also starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, Jane Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor, David Koechner, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park