Sometimes a bad trailer can really put you off a movie. When Paul came out earlier this year the promo spots didn't make it look all that funny, the best gag in the whole thing being the dead bird one. When you factor in that only two thirds of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy team (Pegg and Frost) were involved it looked like director Edgar Wright was going to be badly missed. Indeed, most of Pegg's work without Wright, barring Star Trek, hasn't been especially good. Has anyone watched Run Fatboy Run yet?
Luckily trailers can be deceptive. The film is a lot more juvenile and sillier than either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (and remember those were hardly gritty realistic dramas to start with), and in particular has characters going around swearing for cheap laughs as if the writers (also Pegg and Frost) were teenagers who're still excited by naughty words. However, silly and juvenile can be entertaining if you're in the right mood, and this is still an extremely funny film.
Paul is on the run from the government- headed up by Sigourney Weaver who's clearly having the most fun day's work of her life- after years of captivity. They help him by letting him hitch a ride, and have to flee both the Feds (headed up by Jason Bateman) and the crazy religious father of a girl, Ruth (Kristen Wiig) whom they inadvertently kidnap and who becomes the love interest for Pegg.
There really isn't any more to the plot than that (though as with the Blood and Ice Cream films the script is perfectly constructed, every scene moves some aspect of the plot along and everything set up is paid off by the end). And you don't have to be M. Night Shyamalan in order to work out how things are going to end.
What makes the film so fun though, is the gags. There's wall to wall geek references ranging from the subtle (it takes a few second for the fact a country and western band are playing the Cantina music from Star Wars to sink in) through the very on the nose (guess what gets said at Sigourney Weaver once she shows up). My favourites are is a very silly flashback where Paul advises Stephen Spielberg on E.T. over the phone whilst sitting in the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pegg and Frost going to The Star Trek Rock to play act the fight between Kirk and the Gorn in Arena (though if they were real geeks they'd be doing Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey surely?).
What's also nice is that, despite being a Universal film it's not just their own properties that get sent up. We do get a Twiki from Buck Rogers cameo and nods towards the new Battlestar Galactica but Fox and Paramount (unsurprisingly considering Pegg's involvement) were obviously happy to play ball with Star Wars and Trek, which helps the whole thing seem more real.
Indeed, whilst I've never been to Comic-Con the scenes there do feel very true to similar British events I've been to, the cosplayers and dodgy autograph queues and, most importantly of all, how much fun these things are. This is a film that could so easily have come across as Pegg and Frost biting the hand that feeds them by sending up geekdom, but instead manages to feel like a very warm, affectionate tribute. Even with a joke about Furries (sex with someone in an Ewok costume? Gah).
For people not so up on their SF, there's plenty of more general comedy to be had from the two inept junior agents, and some wonderfully barbed attacks on the American Christian right that are somewhat brave for a film so unashamedly aimed at the U.S. market (I doubt this did good business in the Bible Belt).
Despite its strengths it is easy to see why Paul got a slightly muted reception. Not being on the same level as their previous two films together isn't a sin, but does make it seem less good than it really is. It's also about 15 years too late, if done at the height of X-Files mania it would have seemed a lot more fresh and exciting. Now though, everyone and their dog has sent up men in black clichés and Roswell has pretty much faded from public consciousness, at least related to the mid-90's when you couldn't move for conspiracy theories on it.
However, this is still a lovely little comedy that's perfect for mates and a few beers. I give it three three breasted women out of five. Because four would be just wrong of course.