Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: David Schwimmer
Written by: Michael Ian Black, Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran, Matthew Festoon
Going into Run Fatboy Run, Simon Pegg has his work cut out for him. The English actor has always been an amiable presence, whether playing the slacker store clerk in Shaun of the Dead or the uptight police officer in last year's Hot Fuzz. But even the most likable of actors would have trouble tackling the role of Dennis, a working class idler who ditches his pregnant girlfriend at the altar in the first few minutes of the film. Add to the fact that Libby, the fiancée in question, is played by the luminous Thandie Newton, and you can see Pegg has a ways to go before Dennis can win both the girl and the audience back.
What a testament, then, to Pegg and director David Schwimmer that we not only come to care about Dennis but actually root for him to get his life back on track. After the opening, the picture jumps ahead five years where Dennis is working as a security guard, trying desperately to reconnect with his ex while struggling to be a good father to son Jake (Matthew Festoon.) On a whim, Dennis decides to enter the same 26-mile charity marathon Libby's new boyfriend Whit (Hank Azaria) is running to prove he can, in fact, finish something.
It's a flimsy premise upon which to hang a few rom-com standards, most of which work but several of which fall flat. It's probably no coincidence that Schwimmer, who spent 10 years on Friends, is prone to giving his feature film debut a sitcomy feel. Take the slovenly best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran) who seems to be taking a page from the Rhys Ifans/Notting Hill handbook for loveable losers. And then there's Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel), the ethnic landlord who inexplicably takes Dennis under his wing. A scene in which Whit disrobes in front of Dennis is stale and awkwardly unfunny. And of course, there's the token training montage, in which -- what do you know -- he starts off disastrously, but starts to get better!
In other words, nothing new. Yet the film works, largely thanks to the charm of Pegg, who is in far different territory than his previous films. It's strange that a script from him and Michael Ian Black, the subversive comic mind behind The State and Stella, would produce such a straightforward story. There are no ironic asides, no surreal plot points, and no Nick Frost (Pegg's Shaun and Hot Fuzz co-star) to rely on for comic relief. Playing a genuine Everyman, he is instantly recognizable and relatable. A scene in which he finally explains to Libby why he ran away is heartbreaking and goes a long way toward earning our forgiveness. Newton does her best playing angelic and manages not to make perfection boring. Azaria fares less well in the token role of the seemingly perfect boyfriend who will obviously be unmasked as The Wrong Guy.
The new faces are a charming lot, particularly the adorable Fenton, who not only looks like he could be Pegg's son, but shares his innate comic timing. Moran makes the most of his stock character, earning a few of the film's biggest laughs with his inappropriateness. But it's Pegg's show, and while we know he's a comedic mastermind, he also pulls off the dramatic moments with flair. Proving that as an actor, he's in this for the long run.