Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings are having the time of their lives. Following a visit to Comic Con they embark on a road trip across the USA, stopping off at infamous sites of alleged alien encounters. But they didn't bargain on having an alien encounter of their own involving Paul, a wisecracking extra-terrestrial escapee who needs their help to rendezvous with his mothership.
It was inevitable that following their success in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would attempt to bring their brand of humour to an American film. Sadly the result is substandard, uncomfortably straddling cult and mainstream appeal without satisfying either audience. Pegg and Frost once again make for a likeable comic partnership but the jokes are disappointingly predictable and the tone of this sci-fi comedy is all over the place.
The character of Paul is indicative of this, as voiced by Seth Rogen he's a brash anti-authoritarian pot smoking slacker, more worldly wise than his human friends but bar some near the knuckle humour his persona is far too tame. Reiterating this neutered tone is the rather weak and pointless attempt to satirise creationism, which may cause offence to some American audiences but result in British viewers shrugging their shoulders and wondering what all the fuss is about. The cast do their best with the material and to be fair there are a couple of funny moments, Kristen Wiig's performance as a reluctant passenger on the trio's journey being one, but the whole endeavour is disjointed and unsatisfying.
Paul is symptomatic of what happens when British comedy stars try to replicate their humour within the Hollywood machine. Frustratingly restrained it feels like a movie made within the strict confines of the studio system, in fact a low budget indie film may have been a better choice for the duo's first American venture. As it stands there aren't enough geeky references to make it a cult hit, and it's not funny enough to secure mainstream success. Instead Paul plays safe with predominantly limp gags and a lacklustre rebellious tone which amounts to little more than a smattering of swear words. This generic middle-of-the-road movie is a forgettable addition to the otherwise impressive comedy CV's of Pegg and Frost.
The humour may have been relentlessly obvious, but I had a good time with this, it wanted to do nothing but have a bit of fun with fandom, and the jabs at creationism marked it out as something not entirely Hollywood at all, refreshing to see smuggled in there - even if Pegg and Frost sounded as if they were softpedalling that part in their publicity interviews. Nothing wrong with a bit of goodnatured silliness when so many modern comedies aim for the meanspirited.