Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings are British comic book enthusiasts and best friends who travel to the United States to attend the annual San Diego Comic-Con International, and to take a road trip through the American Southwest to visit sites significant to UFO lore. While driving on a remote desert highway at night, after a tense situation with some rednecks in a diner, Graeme and Clive observe a car driving erratically and then crash. They stop to investigate and offer assistance to the driver, who turns out to be an alien named Paul. Clive faints, but Graeme agrees to assist Paul and gives him a ride.
Later, Special Agent Zoil of the FBI arrives at the car crash site and informs his unseen female superior, "the Big Guy", that he is closing in on Paul. She sends two inept rookies, Haggard and O'Reilly, to assist Zoil.
Graeme, Clive and Paul camp at an RV park run by two Christian fundamentalists; one-eyed Ruth Buggs and her father, Moses. The next day, when Ruth discovers Paul, the three are forced to take her with them. During an argument, Paul convinces Ruth to question her beliefs. Paul later uses his healing power to cure Ruth's blinded eye. The fugitives stop at a bar and Ruth tries to call Moses, but Zoil intercepts the call. She is accosted by the rednecks from the diner, and a bar fight ensues as a result. The group escapes when Paul terrifies the rednecks into fainting. Later, at another RV park, Ruth is questioned by Agent Zoil, but claims to know nothing about "a one-eyed girl" or "two British nerds". Released, she and Graeme retrieve Clive and Paul, who narrowly escape Haggard and O'Reilly. Frustrated, Zoil orders Haggard and O'Reilly to return to base, but they go behind his back and insist on catching the alien on their own.
The group soon arrive at a house owned by Tara, who rescued Paul when he crashed on Earth 60 years ago and, as a result of no one believing her story, has spent her life as a pariah. As she makes tea for her visitors, Haggard, O'Reilly and Zoil surround the house. The fugitives flee, but O'Reilly shoots at them, igniting gas from Tara's stove and destroying her house. O'Reilly is apparently killed in the explosion. Haggard pursues and catches up to the RV. Due to an error in judgement, Haggard drives off a cliff and is killed. Zoil reassures the Big Guy that he will have Paul within the hour, but she is tired of waiting and informs Zoil that she has ordered a "military response".
Paul, Graeme, Clive, Ruth and Tara arrive at Devils Tower National Monument, where they set off fireworks as a signal to Paul's mothership. A helicopter suddenly arrives with agents and The Big Guy. Zoil then appears and initiates a stand-off, disabling the agents, but is then wounded by The Big Guy. Secretly, Zoil is Paul's friend and was attempting to aid his escape under the guise of capturing the alien. The group fights The Big Guy and Tara knocks her out. Moses arrives unexpectedly and fires his shotgun, intending to kill Paul, but Graeme jumps in front of Paul and Ruth and is fatally wounded. Paul once again uses his healing powers, reviving Graeme in spite of the danger to himself. Graeme and Ruth admit their feelings for each other and kiss, but then The Big Guy regains consciousness and holds the group at gunpoint. Just as The Big Guy is about to kill them, she is crushed by a suddenly arriving spaceship. Paul says goodbye to his friends before he leaves in the ship with Tara, promising to give her a new life after ruining her childhood. Two years later, Graeme, Clive, Ruth, Zoil and O'Reilly (who survived the explosion) are at another Comic-Con, where Graeme and Clive are promoting Paul, their best-selling novel.Simon Pegg as Graeme Willy
Nick Frost as Clive Gollings
Seth Rogen as Paul (voice and motion capture)
Jason Bateman as Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil. Bateman described his character as an "exaggerated nasty guy". Bateman also stated that he based Zoil on Yaphet Kotto in Midnight Run and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.
Kristen Wiig as Ruth Buggs
Bill Hader as Agent Haggard
Blythe Danner as Tara Walton
Joe Lo Truglio as Agent O'Reilly
John Carroll Lynch as Moses Buggs, Ruth's father
Jane Lynch as Pat Stevens
David Koechner as Gus, a hillbilly whom Graeme and Clive first encounter in a Nevada gas station.
Jesse Plemons as Jake, Gus's friend.
Sigourney Weaver as "The Big Guy". In an interview with Graham Norton, Weaver stated: "It's a love letter to sci-fi fans. I jumped at the chance to be in it. To find a comedy that also pays homage to sci-fi is a dream come true."
Syd Masters as himself, singing cowboy on stage
Jeffrey Tambor as Adam Shadowchild, a famous science fiction writer
Steven Spielberg as Himself (voice)
In an interview for the DVD release of Paul, Pegg and Frost said they made the film to demonstrate their love for Steven Spielberg's films Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, as well as their favorite science fiction films. After they mentioned the project to Spielberg, he suggested he might make a cameo appearance, and a scene was added to include him as a voice on a speakerphone in 1980 discussing ideas with Paul for his soon to become box office hit E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. According to Robert Kirkman, he, along with Invincible co-creator Cory Walker and Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, had a cameo in the film as The Big Guy's henchmen.
The premise for Paul came from Pegg and Frost in 2003, while they were filming Shaun of the Dead. To help with the script, Pegg and Frost went on their own road trip across America and used ideas from it to add to the script. According to Mottola, the film was given the green-light shortly before the late 2000s recession; if it had been delayed, "they probably wouldn’t have made the movie." The budget for the film was around $40 million. Principal photography, including 50 days in the New Mexico desert, wrapped on 9 September 2009, with additional scenes filmed in July 2010 at the Albuquerque Convention Center, which was designed to look like the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con. During filming, Joe Lo Truglio was a stand-in for the character Paul, the only character who was created by CGI. Seth Rogen did some motion capture in pre-production and voice work during post-production. The cover art for the fictional comic book Encounter Briefs was drawn by alternative comics artist Daniel Clowes.
A teaser trailer was released on 18 October 2010. The film had its world premiere in London on 7 February 2011.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on 13 June 2011 and was released in North America on 9 August 2011. There are three versions of the film. The DVD release features an audio commentary with director Greg Mottola, stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Hader, and producer Nira Park; two featurettes; "Simon's Silly Faces"; photo galleries; storyboards and posters; and a blooper reel. The United States Blu-ray release features all the DVD supplements with nine more featurettes and a digital copy.
Paul received generally positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 71% approval rating with an average rating of 6.3/10 based on 196 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "It doesn't measure up to Pegg and Frost's best work, but Paul is an amiably entertaining — albeit uneven — road trip comedy with an intergalactic twist". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 57 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Empire rated the film "excellent" (four stars out of five) stating, "Broader and more accessible than either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, Paul is pure Pegg and Frost —– clever, cheeky and very, very funny. You'll never look at E.T. in the same way again." SFX also gives the film four stars out of five, saying "the film veers dangerously close to alienating (no pun intended) all but its geek core audience, [though] the more obvious concessions to a mainstream crowd [are] never enough to derail the film's laugh-a-minute ride"; SFX also calls it a "triumph of visual effects, convincing characterisation and bad taste humour." Peter Bradshaw gave the film two stars out of five and called it a "goofy, amiable piece of silliness" exhibiting "self-indulgence" and possessing a "distinct shortage of real gags". On the same scale Nigel Andrews gave the film only one star, calling it a "faltering extraterrestrial knockabout". The Independent grades the film two stars out of five, saying "Pegg is likeable as usual, Frost more doltish than usual, and Kristen Wiig an appealing convert from Bible thumper to ladette", and notes that "from time to time, clever ideas rear their heads – like the idea that 'Paul' has been the brains behind all science fiction and UFO initiatives for the last 30 years, including Close Encounters and The X-Files – but they soon return to the film's default setting of laddish japes and a conviction that the word 'cocksucker' will always get a laugh." Common Sense Media gave the film three stars and an iffy rating for ages 16–17. Saying "Cheerfully dumb sci-fi comedy has sex, drug humor." IGN provided Paul with three reviews. The first gave the film three stars, stating, "Simon Pegg and Nick Frost send up everything from Star Wars to E.T. in this sci-fi comedy ... As with Pegg and Frost's previous films together, it's derivative stuff, the plot similar to countless sci-fi flicks of the past; paying homage to the good and gently ribbing the bad." Less excited was their review for the British Blu-ray version, which said, "But unlike previous Pegg and Frost collaborations – Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz – Paul does not generously reward repeat viewing. That's not to say it's a bad film at all; it has a strong central premise, which carries much of the film, loveable central characters, the odd neat idea (it turns out that Paul inspired all major works of SF post-1950, from Close Encounters to The X-Files, and has a direct line to Steven Spielberg), and a couple of genuine laughs, but it never feels more than a rough sketch of a bigger, much funnier movie." In a second review for the American Blu-ray version, IGN compared the movie with Galaxy Quest and wrote that it is "richly layered with clever homage, a refreshingly original alien hero, delightfully entertaining characters and great performances from our leads and their supporting players."
Upon its release in the United States, Roger Ebert gave Paul a mixed review of two and a half stars out of four, saying it's a "movie that teeters on the edge of being really pretty good and loses its way. I'm not sure quite what goes wrong, but you can see that it might have gone right." According to Manohla Dargis, "As genial, foolish and demographically engineered as it sounds (hailing all fan boys and girls), Paul is at once a buddy flick and a classic American road movie of self- (and other) discovery, interspersed with buckets of expletives and some startling (especially for a big-studio release) pokes at Christian fundamentalism ... The movie has its attractions, notably Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost (and of course Mr. Bateman), whose ductile, (noncomputer) animated and open faces were made for comedy ... Paul proves the weak link. One problem is that Mr. Rogen, however comically inclined, has become overexposed, and there’s just something too familiar and predictable about this voice coming out of that body. Yet while Paul seems great conceptually, he’s not particularly interesting or surprising, despite a funny recap of what he’s been doing on his time on Earth. With his vibe and vocabulary, shorts and weed, juvenilia and sentimentality, Paul turns out to be not much different from a lot of guys who have wreaked comedy havoc on American screens lately, even if this one only wants to beam up, not knock up."
The film has grossed $97,984,015 worldwide. In North America, Paul opened in March 2011 with $13,043,310. The film closed after 63 days in theaters, grossing $37,412,945.
Paul: Music from the Original Motion Picture was released on 21 February 2011 by Universal Music. It intersperses David Arnold's score with the rock songs appearing in the film.
All tracks written by David Arnold, except as noted.
Simon Pegg has stated that he would like to film a sequel to Paul, called Pauls. However, Pegg says the time and expense it would take means it is unlikely to happen unless costs decrease.