Critics were somewhat split over Paul when it was released in the UK in Spring 2011. The absence of director Edgar Wright from the production, was cited as a weakness. Critics also felt the film was generally too mainstream and did not play sufficiently to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's strengths. There were the usual claims of the whole premise being a self-indulgence. However, rather than cross reference Paul against similar films or compare it to material from the stars back catalogue of work, it should be judged on its own merit. On reflection, it is nowhere near as week as some claim it to be. You don’t often get big studio comedies that happily explores what is still considered a niche market genre. If approached with the right outlook, then Paul can be an entertaining diversion with plenty of laughs.
Paul succeeds because it takes a very broad approach to its themes and subjects. Popular culture has absorbed enough sci-fi references to make a lot of the gags very accessible to the general public. Yet there is still much to satisfy the inner geek of the more hardcore fans. Frost and Pegg's natural chemistry together carries the film greatly, along with the traditional transatlantic culture clash. There are some clever references to convention culture and fandom itself, especially with a scene when our pair of heroes meets their favourite author. Paul himself is very well realised and perfectly voiced by Seth Rogen. He provides the sort of wise cracking cynicism audiences expect. The film's running time is ideal with seldom a lull in the pace. This is important with comedy as so many get it wrong.
Paul does have a few weaknesses though. There are more obvious concessions to the mainstream, such as clichéd gay jokes, generic car chases and a somewhat contrived and unconvincing romantic sub-plot. Luckily, these minor aspects are not enough to spoil the overall production and are minor quibbles rather than cardinal sins. Plus, a killer cameo performance by Sigourney Weaver, is more than enough to rectify and other deficiencies in the narrative. The visual FX are more than adequate, and the film looks fine for a mid-budget production. The final act is formulaic but not annoyingly so. You get pretty much what you expect from Paul and that’s not a bad thing. Sometime when viewing at home you want a easy choice and some undemanding viewing.
Ultimately, it is the basic plot device that is the films greatest asset. Paul an alien, finds himself reliant on two guys who are essentially aliens themselves within the country they're touring and society itself. The movie also explores the pros and cons of "geekdom" rather well and gently ribs the culture, rather than openly mocks. This is often a difficult thing to do, but director Greg Mottola gets the tone right. Paul certainly provides a platform for the English's love affair with profanity. Although it is not gratuitous, the choice words do come thick and fast at times. But overall, Paul proves to be a genuinely funny, well observed, accessible sci-fi comedy and I think that this film’s reputation will improve over the years to come.