Paul is essentially an extension of the fannish in-joking that we saw in both Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. We have seen a number of films about or that play off being science-fiction film/comic-book fans over the last decade with the likes of Trekkies (1997), Free Enterprise (1998) and GalaxyQuest (1999) about Star Trek fandom; Mark Hamills hilarious mockumentary Comic Book: The Movie (2004) and the documentary Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope (2011) also about the San Diego Comic Con; Fanboys (2008) and the documentary The People vs. George Lucas (2011) about Star Wars fandom; Proxima (2007) where a science-fiction fan is taken on an intergalactic adventure, the similar Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009) about British fans caught up in a time travel adventure, and The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulu (2009) with fans caught up in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, Rise of the Fellowship (2013) about Lord of the Rings fans and gamers, even an entire tv series The Big Bang Theory (2007 ) set around fans and fannish in-jokes. As it plays out, Paul feels akin to a fanboy version of Starman (1984) where instead of Karen Allen heading to a starship rendezvous with alien Jeff Bridges, we have two fannish nerds journeying with an alien. This comes with all the requisite in-jokes about classic alien visitor films. Imagine perhaps the alien road movie of Starman recast with two fanboys and the smartass one-liner quoting alien out of tvs ALF (1986-90).
For someone who has been raised on science-fiction most of their life, I found Paul hilarious. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are around the same age I am so it felt like it was a film being made just for me. The film even opens with perfect fannish obeisance as Pegg and Frost make a trip to the San Diego Comic Con, the annual Mecca of contemporary fannish activity. There are hilarious little fannish in-jokes Pegg and Frost staging a recreation of the Star Trek episode Arena (1967) in the desert with a lizard mask; the alien mimicking the Predator mouth or making jokes about them picking up some Reeces Pieces when they pull up at a gas station for supplies; a cute flashback where we see Paul on the phone at Area 51 giving phone advice to Steven Spielberg for the idea for E.T.s magic finger; while Nick Frost even squeezes in a reference to Mac and Me (1988). The funniest scenes come towards the end of the film with a homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) including a visit to Devils Tower, Wyoming; scenes quoting the backlit pursuit through the trees by the government agents in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982); and the highly amusing revelation of the identity of the agency head as none other than Sigourney Weaver whom Kristen Wiig gets to deck while uttering the immortal line from Aliens (1986): Get away from her, you bitch. Surprisingly, in being a principally British film, we get no references to Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005 ) anywhere throughout.
Paul comes with a great deal of warm and very funny humour be it Paul deconstructing human obsession with anal probings, just the way that Latino hotel employee (Nelson Ascencio) says What do you mean aliens? or Simon Pegg and Pauls exchange Dylan is dead? Are you sure about that? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost slot into proceedings like a well-oiled comic duo who have been working together so long that each of them knows the others moves before they do. They play off each others established personas with an exceedingly naturalistic humour. The scene stealer of the film manages to be the vastly underrated Kristen Wiig whose discovery of foul-language and attempts to conduct various permutations on this or just the awkward way that she and Simon Pegg navigate around a mutual attraction is hilarious there is an especially funny scene where she smokes some experimental marijuana and passes through all the stages of being stoned in about 30 seconds flat. (Her scenes are also underscored by a running theme where Simon Pegg sticks his neck out in favour of atheism, throwing a number of barbs against evangelical Christianity, something you would never get an American film daring to do). Jason Bateman also gives a highly amusing performance, moving beyond his usual nice guy persona to play a hard-ass government agent (even if the character makes a difficult to believe change of alignment at the end).
The idea of a wisecracking, smartass alien was irritating on ALF and equally takes some getting used to here. Behind the motion-capture animation, Pauls voice is provided by Seth Rogen in full frat boy mode. Rogen has an everyperson charm in his various Judd Apatow appearances but this overran its appeal by the time of The Green Hornet (2011) where the Rogen persona ended up entirely misconceiving the original material and creating a disaster. Eventually though, embedded in Simon Pegg and Nick Frosts script and under the direction of Greg Mottola (who previously made Superbad (2007) from a Rogen script), Rogens persona emerges with a raucous and wryly, sarcastic charm.