I have a bad feeling about this genial, shambling, rather charming little movie. Why? There were maybe 40 people at the first evening show I attended on opening night, and while they seemed to genuinely like the movie—there was even some applause at the end—that’s not exactly an impressive turnout. Something tells me that Run, Fatboy, Run is destined to run right on out of town pretty fast. Too bad. It’s not a great movie, maybe not even an especially good one, and it’s certainly neither original nor packed with surprises. It is, however, entertaining and thoroughly likable.
Simon Pegg—he of Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) fame—stars as Dennis Doyle, a largely unmotivated commitment-phobic fellow who panics on his wedding day and leaves his pregnant fiancée, Libby (Thandie Newton), at the altar. Five years later, he’s still going nowhere, spending his working hours as a security guard at a lingerie shop where his principle activity seems to be chasing down a drag-queen shoplifter (Gabriel Fleary). He does manage to spend some time with his son, Jake (Matthew Fenton), but has a bad habit of showing up late and unprepared. All this changes when Dennis learns that Libby is involved with a rich, successful American, Whit (Hank Azaria), making him realize just exactly what he lost when he ditched her.
Somewhat preposterously, Dennis decides that the way to win Libby back is by competing in a 26-mile marathon race—primarily because Whit is in the race. That Dennis is out of shape (to put it mildly) and barely motivated enough to get out of bed for practice runs poses a problem that is only slightly helped when his best friend, Gordon (Dylan Moran, Shaun of the Dead), appoints himself his trainer. (Gordon happens to have a financial stake in the matter). The addition of Dennis’ irritable, but ultimately very caring landlord, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel), armed with a spatula to goad him along is of slightly more help. Libby flat out tells Dennis that none of this will make a difference, but the race has come to be a point of honor—to prove to everyone that he can finish something—and Dennis perseveres.
Along the way, of course, lessons are learned and true character emerges in ever more unsurprising ways, but this is a case where being surprised matters less than being satisfied. In other words, Run, Fatboy, Run does exactly what you want it to do in terms of plot.
Pegg, Newton, Moran and Patel keep it afloat, while Azaria does what he can with a role where we’re just waiting for his character to prove himself to be a skunk from scene one. By the time the gloves come off and Whit talks about St. Paul’s Cathedral being his favorite spot in London, asking Dennis if he knows why, only to have Dennis guess, “Is that where you first realized how wonderful you are?” we’re prepared for utter villainy from Whit. And we are not disappointed.
In his feature-directing debut, David Schwimmer doesn’t do anything especially remarkable, but then good comedy doesn’t always benefit from flashy filmmaking. His assembling of the film is a little clunky. The movie starts off in retro mode with Bing Crosby crooning the Gershwins’ “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and then pegs Dennis as a rock fan with Bowie’s “Queen Bitch.” (Note to filmmakers: This is the third use of this song in the last few years. Bowie did record other songs.) After that, the soundtrack smoothes out into uninspired choices and an often-intrusive score by Alex Wurman that tries too hard to be funny, and the overall feeling is that Schwimmer lost interest in what the movie sounded like.
All in all, it’s a sweet, enjoyable film that’s worth a couple hours of your time. There are pleasant bits throughout—mostly predicated on stock eccentric Brit characters—and a few nice running gags. You could certainly do worse. Trust me, you have done worse. Rated PG-13 for some rude and sexual humor, nudity, language and smoking.