Religious groups, already waging ideological battles against MTV’s Skins and the upcoming ABC show Good Christian Bitches, may let Paul slide on by. But will gay rights groups protest how Paul uses the word “fag” in a derogatory manner much like they protested the word “gay” in the trailer for The Dilemma?
At first blush, Paul seems scientifically engineered for the likes of Pegg and Frost, comic actors with a heady sense of meta-gags and the chops to pull them off. Normally, the pair work with fellow Brit Edgar Wright, but for Paul they’ve teamed up with director Greg Mottola of Superbad fame.
Not a bad switcheroo, but the results prove lackluster.
The crush of limp running gags doesn’t help. People keep thinking Graeme and Clive are a gay couple (har har) and that Paul is gearing up to deliver a heaping helping of anal probes.
Pegg and Frost, so good together in past vehicles, feel like they’re cashing in on their bromance history. Frost’s character is particularly prickly, and even when the screenplay fleshes out the reasons why it’s hardly revelatory.
Rogen fares better, even if he’s still trading on his stoner image from Pineapple Express. He gives Paul a rat-a-tat-tat of counter-culture lines, but he also finds the sentimental side of the bug-eyed lost soul.
Paul should have hit theaters in PG-13 form, since a younger audience won’t mind the sillier sequences and will happily name check all the movies referenced from start to finish. It’s aggressively R-rated for the wrong reasons. It heaps on vulgarity without the stinging effect found in a Judd Apatow production. Sure, Ruth is trying to understand how to properly incorporate F bombs into conversation, but the screenplay is littered with other key players speaking crassly to little comic effect.
Paul also squanders a top flight supporting cast, from Bateman’s unblinking G-man to Joe Lo Truglio as an agent with a soft spot for all things sci-fi. And, for once, Jane Lynch drops by a movie set and doesn’t steal every scene she’s in.
Paul coaxes a steady stream of grins for much of its running time without ever delivering a belly laugh. The film may be remembered more for its spirituality bashing than any comic inspiration.