Run, Fat Boy, Run

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg has proven himself to be a warm onscreen comic presence, the sort of up-and-coming talent worth following, but his considerable talents can only do so much to enliven mediocre material. Thats the lesson gleaned from watching Run, Fat Boy, Run, the mildly humorous trifle from Friends alum David Schwimmer, whose feature directorial debut has some heart but not enough hilarity.

Pegg plays Dennis, a London clothing-store security guard whos still reeling from the fallout of his decision five years ago to abandon his pregnant bride Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar. Though still close to his son Jake (Matthew Fenton), Dennis is stuck in the doldrums, and his constant encounters with his lovely ex-fiance (whom he still adores) only remind him of the life he could have had if only he hadnt allowed a moment of cold feet to ruin their relationship.

Dennis finds his purpose, though, when he meets Libbys new boyfriend Whit (Hank Azaria), a successful American businessman working in England. Fit and possessing model-worthy looks, Whit is the direct opposite of the pudgy, homely Dennis, who can barely bother making sure his goatee is trimmed properly. With Whit and Libbys relationship getting more serious, and with Whit hitting it off with young Jake, Dennis decides he needs to reinsert himself into Libbys world. To prove that he still loves her and that Whits good qualities arent that impressive, Dennis decides to train for the upcoming London Marathon, an event for which Whit (an accomplished long-distance runner) has been actively training. Unfortunately, Dennis is in horrible shape and smokes, so his ambitious plan of completing the marathon will require a lot of training in a short amount of time.

From a screenplay credited to Reno 911! actor Michael Ian Black and Pegg, Run, Fat Boy, Run is a rather tame laugher, the sort of comedy that unsuccessfully tries to merge hip, edgy actors with benign romantic-comedy conventions.

On many levels, Run, Fat Boy, Run is an ill-conceived project, but its additionally burdened with a misleading title that promises a madcap comic style that the movie has no intention of delivering on. Naming a movie Run, Fat Boy, Run suggests a story featuring a humorously obese lout whose weight will greatly factor into the plot mechanics (and, therefore, the jokes) of the piece. Such a film could be criticized for an insensitivity to the overweight, or it could be celebrated for its shrewd skewering of sports-competition movie clichs, but at least that imaginary version would have more comic verve than the actual film we have in front of us.

Far from the morbidly obese individual suggested from the title, Dennis is only mildly pudgy, an indication that the film doesnt even have the nerve of its potentially un-PC title. Pegg, who was exceptionally funny in director Edgar Wrights Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (for which he co-wrote the screenplays), seems to be running at half-speed here, unsure whether to treat the straightforward love story with irony. As a result, Pegg is best playing off Newton and Fenton, where his natural charisma and warmth work wonders to add believability to the predictable scenes of, respectively, unrequited love and father-son bonding. Its in these moments that Pegg reminds us that he isnt just a funny guy; to be sure, Shaun of the Dead was such a singular comedy precisely because it was not only hysterical but also unexpectedly moving and well-acted.

But if the movie is meant to be Peggs coming-out as a viable romantic lead, its unfortunate that he neglects his comic edge along the way. Though Pegg contributed to the screenplay, which was originally set in New York before his involvement, its hard to ignore that the final product feels like an oddly straight-faced studio project, the sort of thing Pegg and Wright usually mercilessly spoof in their own films.

The predictable romantic triangle played out by Whit, Dennis, and Libby is rife with clichs: the seemingly perfect new boyfriend is in fact a jerk once his true colors are revealed; the seemingly irresponsible man-child has a good heart which will help him overcome his immaturity and win back his true love; and the female love interest is mostly a nonentity whose main plot thrust is deciding which man she will choose. There are jokes made at the expense of Indians, mobsters and proudly macho straight men, but on the whole there are more mild chuckles than genuine laughs here.

As the other two legs of this romantic triangle, Newton and Azaria are acceptable in trite roles. Newton is such a bewitching presence that its frustrating that lately shes played forgettable wife or girlfriend characters in films like Crash and The Pursuit of Happyness. As is the case in most comedies, the men get all the funny lines, so Newtons task in Run, Fat Boy, Run is to look adorable or disappointed, depending on the situation. As the cocky, unflappable Whit, Azaria is a little too bland to give us a hint of the characters darker, meaner side. Hes not even a fun hissable foil for Dennis.

Eventually, Dennis begins training for the London Marathon, setting up a finale where the two men will square off in competition for Libbys heart. While the ending doesnt play out completely as expected, director David Schwimmer as he has throughout the film shows no comic ingenuity in staging his sequences. Schwimmer has extensive experiencing helming TV episodes like Friends and Joey, and his big-screen debut feels hopelessly small-sized. Comedies arent usually known for their visual flair, but Run, Fat Boy, Run is particularly drab in this regard. The London locations are fun to drink in, though, since not much else on the screen is particularly noteworthy.

Credits

Running time: 97 minutes

Director: David Schwimmer
Production companies: Entertainment Films, Material Entertainment
US distribution: Picturehouse
Producers: Robert Jones, Sarah Curtis
Executive producers: Joseph Infantolino, Alexa L. Fogel, Nigel Green, Camela Galano, Rolf Mittweg, Martha Coleman
Screenplay: Michael Ian Black, Simon Pegg
Cinematography: Richard Greatrex
Editor: Michael Parker
Production design: Sophie Becher
Music: Alex Wurman

Cast

Simon Pegg (Dennis)
Thandie Newton (Libby)
Hank Azaria (Whit)
Dylan Moran (Gordon)
Harish Patel (Mr. Goshdashtidar)
India De Beaufort (Maya Goshdashtidar)
Matthew Fenton (Jake)