New Simon Pegg flick hits the ground running

by Beacon Staff • March 26, 2008

For those expecting another Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, be forewarned: Run Fatboy Run doesn't parody the romantic comedy genre quite as adeptly as its predecessors satirized their specific genres. Admittedly, 2007's Hot Fuzz is a hard act to follow, but Run Fatboy Run does a decent job of it, even when saddled with a predictable storyline. David Schwimmer, in his major motion picture directing debut, has properly showcased the talents of the British funnymen involved to create an amusing, entertaining movie, if not a revolutionary one.

If this film starred American actors, it would have been a disaster. But due to its dry British wit, Run Fatboy Run provides some genuine laughs, and some cringing ones, as the commitment-phobe Dennis Doyle (Simon Pegg) attempts to win the girl's heart while also proving himself an adult in the process.

Unfortunately, there's a lot working against him. For one, he left his pregnant fianceacute;, Libby (Thandie Newton), at the altar five years before because he was too insecure and childish to get married. And he has never really grown up-or finished anything, as Libby rightfully complains.

Also complicating the situation is Whit (Hank Azaria), Libby's new suitor-the successful, marathon-running American businessman attempting to usurp Dennis' position as father to Dennis' Lord of the Rings-obsessed son, Jake (an endearing and funny Matthew Fenton).

In a desperate attempt to prove to Libby that he can dedicate himself and do something that he says he will (and also beat Whit), Dennis pledges to run the upcoming marathon-a task that he suddenly realizes will be harder than he originally thought. Dennis is very out-of-shape, as evidenced by the fact that he cannot catch shoplifters at the lingerie store he works for as a security guard even when they're wearing high heels. Despite his complaints, "I'm not fat, I'm just unfit," Dennis is clearly meant to be on the heavier side. Here it is interesting to see the British perception of overweight/unfit, which is probably very different from what the American idea would be. The same goes for the idea of success, if one is to compare Whit's stereotypical rich American showoff to Dennis' sincere everyman.

The movie then progresses accordingly, using running as a rather obvious metaphor for growing up-Dennis must get in shape, stay focused and push through the dreaded "wall" that tired runners inevitably hit. The marathon setup also lays the groundwork for a number of gags-an oddball pair of trainers, Dennis' gambling best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran) and his obese, widower Indian landlord (Harish Patel).

Brutal training tactics involving spatulas and mopeds; and a blister scene that has the audience in a horrified uproar also adds to the antics. Unfortunately, it also opens the door to obvious product placement, of which Nike is the main culprit-a gift of expensive running shoes that are "the best money can buy," and Nike signs lining the entire marathon course. While this would be a perfect place to parody the use of blatant product placement in movies, Run Fatboy Run does not seem to take advantage of that opportunity, which is disappointing.

As with many British comedies, male nudity is played up for laughs, which is usually successful. Gordon's randomly-exposed backside makes two cameos and a memorable locker room scene between Dennis and Whit provides some vulgar hilarity. In addition, there are plenty of sexual jokes scattered throughout the movie, the chastest of which being the name of the bakery that Libby owns, "Libby's Nice Buns."

Unfortunately, the movie is also predictable, perhaps because Simon Pegg uses the same loser/nerd-turned-hero formula for each of his movies. Admittedly, he is good at it, but after successful movies using that model, it might be time for him to try something new, so that his movies don't become another form of the trite genres that he is satirizing.

The plot isn't anything groundbreaking-for instance, the audience already knows that foul play will inevitably be involved when Whit and Dennis face off in the marathon, and that Dennis will somehow expose to Libby how much of an ass Whit really is. Whit, who starts out as the guy the audience could potentially feel sorry for, gets progressively less sympathetic as the movie goes on, which is effective in causing the viewers to root for Dennis more-he is more lovable and the underdog. However, the affection between Dennis and Libby isn't always strongly felt, perhaps because of Dennis' continual immaturity. The fact that Dennis loves his son is obvious, but, as much as the movie asserts that he loves Libby, that does not always come through as well as it's supposed to.

One of the things that the Fatboy filmmakers execute well is its ending. They avoid the typical cloying ending that unfortunately seems to come with the boy-gets-girl genre in favor of a more realistic-and mature-ending that underscores the film's focus on acting like an adult. Instead of allowing the film to become a sappy Hollywood mess, the filmmakers kept it real and ultimately more touching. This type of ending is one example of why this film doesn't seem to qualify as a parody as much as its predecessors did, though the choice was a good one.

Run Fatboy Run manages to keep a tricky genre and storyline from going too far south, a feat in itself, while also delivering some genuine fun and laughs. It isn't a masterpiece, but this middle-of-the-road comedy is good for what it was intended for-entertainment and giggles meant to appeal to both British and American audiences' senses of humor.