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Run Fatboy Run   C

Picturehouse

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: David Schwimmer
Writers: Michael Ian Black, Simon Pegg
Cast: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran, Harish Patel, India de Beaufort, Matthew Festoon, Simon Day.

Review by Rob Vaux

A wise man once noted that the caliber of a movie star (as opposed to just an actor) doesn't come with his or her best work, but in the mediocre films beneath them. Does a star keep you watching when you know exactly where the movie is headed? Does he hold your interest while navigating otherwise unremarkable plot twists? Does he take an utterly formulaic run-of-the-mill piece of genre filler and convince you -- if only for 90-odd minutes -- that something more is going on? If so, then please allow Run Fatboy Run to present Simon Pegg: movie star. Pegg's done far better films than this, and more are undoubtedly on the way. But those movies had a lot of other stellar cards in their hand; Run Fatboy Run just has him. If nothing else, the crucible of carrying the show himself this time demonstrates the true measure of his worth.

Is it second-tier? Oh, most definitely. Its routine story posits a basic love triangle, set against the picturesque London that Hugh Grant and his mates wore out some time ago. Its story is serviceable, its characters engaging but otherwise stock. Its lessons about taking responsibility for your actions and finishing what you start have merit, but we've seen them in far more dynamic packages than this. Here, we're given a blandly desirable gal (Thandie Newton, doing her best in an underwritten role), a caddish rival (Hank Azaria, ripped to the nines and ready to knock any tough guy you could name into next week), and a contrived climax intended to redeem our lovable loser of a hero. It ambles along pleasantly, produces a few chuckles, and is forgotten by the time you pass the popcorn counter on the way out of the theater.

Except for Pegg.

He plays Dennis, aforementioned lovable loser and underachieving fat boy of the title. Not that he's particularly fat -- the disconnect becomes a bit of a running joke -- but as the actor describes, he's "fat of soul." Lazy, irresponsible, trapped in a state of perennial adolescence, he lost the light of his life Libby (Newton) by standing her up at the altar... while she was pregnant with their son. Five years later, he's clearly learned nothing from the experience, but when Libby hooks up with brash American Whit (Azaria), something stirs in the recesses of his mind. He hatches a crazy scheme to win her back by competing in an upcoming London marathon, but how can a man for whom the snooze bar was seemingly invented find the discipline to run a distance that killed the first guy who tried it?

The film's wafer-thin coating stays agreeable and breezy but never more than that. Director David Schwimmer (yes, that David Schwimmer) leads us through all the excepted tropes, exhibiting a modest wit while resolutely sticking to the boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl formula. It never hits a single sour note, but ye gods have we seen it all before. From Dennis's coterie of amiable fuckups to his adorable moppet son (Matthew Fenton), everyone is packaged to order and unveils their prescribed shticks at precisely the expected time. Were anyone else in the lead, the whole endeavor might have disintegrated into ethereal mist and silently blown away.

And yet through sheer force of will, Pegg almost manages to keep it on track. Dennis lies very close to his now-iconic Shaun of the Dead protagonist, and the inherent sympathy of that earlier character helps this one find a shot of soulfulness beneath his slacker exterior. We feel for him almost against our better judgment: yeah he's a loser and he's made a real mess of his life, but Pegg helps us understand why. He works the jokes exceptionally well too, from the ubiquitous gross-out gag involving a swollen blister to the uniformly sweet interactions with his son. Other stars can hold our attention through uninspired material (see Washington, Denzel), but usually by overpowering us with sheer charisma. Pegg's everyman status never felt quite so genuine as it does here, and never has it been so badly needed. It's not enough to save Run Fatboy Run, unfortunately, but at least he won't make you regret seeing it. When was the last time De Niro did that?

Review published 03.28.2008.

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