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 feelgood sci-fi adventure, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.
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.
Their otherworldly visitor smokes pot, glugs beer and exposes his backside through the windscreen of a Winnebago.
He can turn himself invisible as a camouflage defence mechanism and can magically reanimate the dead, providing the film with one of its funniest sequences.
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 Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) wander dumbstruck around the comic book and popular arts convention, Comic-Con.
They meet famous sci-fi author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), before embarking on a road trip across America, stopping at locations associated with alien contact including 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 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.
Meanwhile, Zoil recruits two bungling FBI agents, Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), to apprehend Graeme and Clive.
British audiences love the double-act of Pegg and Frost, making Paul the obvious film of the week.
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.
Wiig is adorable as the visually impaired love interest and 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.’
Next to Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul does feel flat but Pegg and Frost paper over the cracks with nods and winks to classic fantasy and sci-fi films.
In-jokes abound referencing the warehouse in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Ripley’s battle cry from Aliens and an iconic mountain from another Spielberg favourite.
Considering 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.