An amiable ramble down the highways of UFOlogy, Paul has writers/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing their geek bromance routine in America. Blending the genre parodies of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead with Judd Apatow style frat comedy, it’s a likeable enough piece that could maybe have tried a little bit harder.
Edgar Wright being busy elsewhere, the director is Greg Mottola (Superbad and the excellent Adventureland), with fellow comedy regular Seth Rogen providing the voice of the titular Grey alien. On the run from Jason Bateman’s Man in Black, Paul chances across Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), two SF fans touring the UFO hotspots of America in a rented RV, and hotches a ride to the planned rendezvous with his people.
The main reason Shaun and (to a slightly lesser extent) Hot Fuzz worked was because the scripts were good. It didn’t matter if you’d never seen the films they riffed on, because the characters felt three dimensional, if broad. Paul doesn’t hold up quite so well. The two leads are affectionately drawn, but slightly too obvious: nervous around women, fond of comics, shielding themselves in fantasy. It’s a little closer to the average person’s view of Comic Con attendees than it needs to be. The matey camaraderie between the two helps (you suspect the trip is a dream come true for the actors as well as the characters). The script also falls into the trap of quoting other films, verbally and visually, as a wink to the fanboys in the audience so frequently that it becomes irritating rather than funny.
But these are minor points; my one major reservation about the script is that it takes the route of making the local small town folk the lads encounter to be bible and/or queer-bashing rednecks, which just feels lazy. Worse, there’s a peculiar plot strand in which Paul proves to Simon Pegg’s love interest (Kristen Wiig) that God doesn’t exist, and all the beliefs she was raised with are wrong. There’s no debate about this: the film takes it for granted that everyone watching will share this worldview and be ready to laugh at anyone who doesn’t. It’s a peculiar attitude for a comedy to adopt, and one which will surely cost it some potential ticket sales, particular in the areas where it’s set (I can’t wait to read the capalert review).
If you can get past that, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had. A terrific support cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as Bateman’s stooges. These last two provide a lot of the biggest laughs. And Paul himself is an impressive bit of CGI.
Paul is one of those films you can’t actively dislike, and it benefits greatly from picking up the pace in the last act. It’s a shame that so many of the best gags are in the trailer, though there is some material on Paul’s influence on popular culture that I enjoyed a lot. Overall, a fair crowdpleaser that should find an audience among those with no religious sensibilities whatsoever.