Because I've become friendly with Paul's director Greg Mottola (who has occasionally contributed a comment to this blog), and recently enjoyed a congenial dinner with a member of this film's cast, I can't really weigh in on the film in any "official" way, or capacity. But I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, without reservation or qualification, and that as a fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz I consider this a thoroughly worthy followup to those pictures and an entirely successful Pegg/Frost vehicle in every sense of the term.
Is it different from those pictures? Yes, of course it is. As co-writers' Frost and Pegg's homage to a certain period of American cinema, and fish-out-of-water tale of goggle-eyed Britishers abroad, it would have to be. What defines Paul is not just its concept but its very condition as a hybrid British-American creation, and its condition of being a bonafide big American studio comedy. And that's something certain of the backlash crowd, some of whom really seem to have their knives out for this, have against the film. I don't know what to say to that. The Blues Brothers might not be my own personal favorite outsize American comedy, but by the same token I don't think that the guys who made this film are following somewhat in its footsteps because some studio exec put a gun to their heads.
It's because The Blues Brothers is part of this picture's lingua franca. One thing I enjoyed about Paul is its lighthearted alternative history of post-1969 American cinema. Like Lost in America,not to mention that oft-cited Peter Biskind book, it takes Easy Rider as its starting point. And in case you miss that, that film's title appears on a marquee in this film's last third. I didn't see Kristen Wiig's cloistered-daughter-of-a-crazed-bible-thumper character, whose belief in Creationism and such is upended by the genial smartass E.T. Paul, so much as a vehicle for "Christian-bashing" (if the filmmakers wanted to Christian-bash in earnest, they'd have put the science-dropping Paul up against C.S. Lewis, or somethin') than as a coeval to Rider's George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), the small-town naif whose mind is blown by Wyatt and Billy. That movie's ultimately tragic counterculture bromance, such as it is, is replaced here by actual het romance, which, given the lead characters' fanboy love that dare not speak its name, is an amusing complicating factor in the scenario. But anyway. Beginning in the world of Easy Rider—Paul's Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are indeed two men (men-children?) who went looking for America, so to speak—it barrels not into the realm of Raging Bull but Close Encounters. For a pop-culture savvy comedy, that's absolutely as it should be. But what I enjoyed most about Paul was the way that it juggles its various cartoon humor and big-scale studio-comedy gags, pastiche elements, and endlessly knowing references (some so obscure I imagine that some of the studio overseers weren't even aware that a joke was being made; I'm thinking in particular of a throwaway crack Paul makes about looking "like a family" when he and Graeme and Clive make their first public appearance together), with a real sensitivity to the relationships between the characters, particularly, of course, Graeme and Clive. As he did with Superbad, Mottola conveys what's funny about emotionally adolescent man-love, and what's kind of silly and ridiculous about it, but he also puts across what can be moving and kind of noble about it as well. There's a real warmth and sweetness and patience about their interactions, and as frantic as the action in Paul gets, its' clear that Mottola, with Pegg and Frost as deft co-conspirators, took real care to concoct something that looks like a real bond between its characters, and that's present during both said frantic action and the very enjoyable and relaxed interstices between set pieces.
As for the backlash? I don't know that I can get into that. OK, I admit that some material in which it was laid out just how Paul himself became such a pop culture sponge might have been helpful for some of the film's more literal-minded viewers, but in all honesty I just can't get on board with that one guy who said that the character "simply makes no sense." Makes no sense, huh? Say, have you heard this one? A horse, a rabbi, and a priest walk into a bar. The bartender says, "What is this, a fucking joke?"
Incidentally, Paul supporting player and SNL stalwart Bill Hader's Criterion Top Ten, in which he "cheats" with double features, just went up. Very good stuff, with some extremely apt and (naturally) funny observations. Check it out.