Run Fatboy Run (United Kingdom/United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Based on the evidence at hand, one has to assume the missing ingredient is Edgar Wright. Wright, the co-writer and director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is nowhere to be found in the credits list of Run Fatboy Run. Instead, on this occasion, Simon Pegg is creatively teamed with director David Schwimmer and co-scripter Michael Ian Black. The result is tepid humor and a less-than-compelling feel-good story of redemption and re-kindled romance. With Shaun and Fuzz, Pegg took well-known genres and firmly skewered them. Those who believe the underdog/sports movie will get the same treatment in Run Fatboy Run will be disappointed. This is yet another parody that falls victim to the desire to become what it's intending to satirize.

The problem starts with the characters. For a feel-good movie to succeed, the protagonists have to be well-developed. They must be individuals we can believe in and root for. For a parody, they are generally caricatures who rarely escape the two-dimensional box. The incompatibility between the two is evident and it results in a constant struggle throughout Run Fatboy Run. Are we supposed to view Simon Pegg's Dennis as an underdog defying the odds to gain the respect of his son and his ex, or is he a figure set up to ridicule a genre that overflows with mawkishness? The movie is conflicted about this and, if the filmmakers don't know, how is the audience supposed to? I spent the first half-hour of this movie wondering when it was going to become funny before I realized that the sporadic, limp jokes were as good as it was going to get.

The film begins five years in the past, on the wedding day between Dennis and Libby (Thandie Newton). The cowardly Dennis, overwhelmed by circumstances and in a panic, runs away, leaving his very pregnant girlfriend standing at the altar. Cut to the present, where Dennis has managed to forge a civil relationship with Libby that enables him to see his son, Jake (Matthew Fenton). Libby has a new boyfriend, the overachiever Whit (Hank Azaria), whose presence grates on Dennis. Now, all these years later, he has realized that Libby is the only woman for him but his attempts to win her back are impeded not only by the specter of his past public rejection of her but by Whit's constant presence.

As is the usual case for this sort of movie, Dennis is surrounded by a supporting cast of stereotypes. There's his annoying best friend, Gordon (Dylan Moran), who's obsessed with gambling and women. There's his landlord, Mr. Ghoshdashidar (Haris Patel), who spends the first half of the movie asking where the rent is and the second half coaching Dennis in his attempt to run a marathon. No points for guessing that, despite jilting Libby, Dennis turns out to be an okay guy and that Whit, despite his impeccable credentials, is actually a jerk. He proves this by calling a kid a four-letter word. Everyone in the audience knows that's a cinematic no-no.

Pegg and Azaria slide comfortably into made-to-order stereotype roles. There's nothing surprising or interesting about either of them, which is one reason why the film's lack of effective humor becomes an albatross. Thandie Newton, delightful as she is, doesn't have a lot to do beyond representing Dennis' Big Mistake. While it's nice to see Newton in any capacity, it's a shame she's reduced to playing this sort of part, since she's capable of much more. As Run Fatboy Run's idiotic supporting male duo, Dylan Moran and Haris Patel are mediocre at best.

While this is the kind of movie one might expect from David Schwimmer, whose non-Friends screen credits are dubious at best, it's a comedown for Pegg, whose work in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will have audiences primed to expect something fresher, funnier, and more interesting. For Run Fatboy Run, he has put away the knives and gotten out the cheese. For those who enjoy their character arcs and happy endings served up with a minimum of drama or humor, Run Fatboy Run becomes the latest entry into a genre that's burgeoning at an alarming rate.

Run Fatboy Run (United Kingdom/United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1