According to The X-Files, the truth is out there...but you won’t find it in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s fantastical road movie.
In the same way that Shaun Of The Dead gleefully gnawed the funny bone of the zombie horror genre, and Hot Fuzz took aim at the countryside cop drama, Paul impishly probes the sci-fi adventure flick, ET-style.
Spielberg’s earthbound alien was a cute and cuddly creature who just wanted to phone home, but he bears little resemblance to Pegg and Frost’s little grey man: a pot-smoking boozer who exposes his backside through the windscreen of a Winnebago. Classy.
Director Greg Mottola’s adventure opens in 1947 Wyoming with a spacecraft crash-landing on top of a red setter called Paul. Flashing forward to present day San Diego, best friends Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) wander dumbstruck around acomic book and popular arts convention, then embark on a road trip across America, stopping at locations associated with alien activity including the infamous Area 51, the Extraterrestrial Highway and the Black Mailbox.
En route, Graeme and Clive encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a potty-mouthed alien stranded on Earth, who is being hunted by mysterious special agent Zoil (Jason Bateman).
The pals agree to help Paul return home, abducting Ruth (Kristen Wiig), the one-eyed daughter of Bible-bashing trailer park owner Father Moses (John Carroll Lynch), along the way.
British audiences love the double-act of Pegg and Frost; their natural chemistry and sharp comic timing compels us to back Graeme and Clive as they risk life, limb and an expensive replica sword to deliver their otherworldly buddy to his mothership.
Rogen brings a roguish charm to his titular hero, becoming mock-serious when he imparts the secret of the universe: “Be yourselves, speak from the heart – some rubbish like that.”
It’s just as well – naming a film after a CGI character is risky business, but luckily Pegg et al pull it off with their natural comic flair.
On the whole – and next to Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz – Paul does feel flat, but they paper over the cracks with nods and winks to classic fantasy and sci-fi films, which for any self-respecting sci-fi mark more than makes up for any flaws.
But, considering just how many of the laughs in Paul come from other sources, perhaps a more apt title would have been Close Encounters Of The Second-Hand Kind.