April 3, 2008

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Run, Fat Boy, Run (PG-13)
Simon Pegg helms this slight but goofy-fun comedy about a guy trying to get his life together enough to win back the mother of his child in Run, Fat Boy, Run.

Actually, it’s Pegg leading the onscreen action while behind the scenes you have the surprisingly satisfactory combination of David Schwimmer in the director’s chair and Pegg and Michael Ian Black (the brain behind Stella, Viva Variety and The State) on script duty.

Dennis (Pegg) is a bit of a loser who nonetheless managed to win the heart of the beautiful and talented baker Libby (Thandie Newton). On what would have been their wedding day, however, Dennis freaked out — about the commitment of marriage maybe or the even bigger commitment of the child the very pregnant Libby was about to have or maybe about how Dennis didn’t feel man enough to meet the challenge of either of these things. So he ran, fast, leaving a crying Libby standing on the street in her wedding dress.

Some five years later, Dennis is what he calls a “nearly man,” working as a security guard at a woman’s dress store, living in a one-room basement apartment and seeing his son Jake (Matthew Fenton) only occasionally. The successful Libby has moved on with her life — posh home, crowded upscale bakery and even a new fellow. Whit (Hank Azaria) is everything Dennis is not — employed in the big-money career of hedge fund management, resident of an extremely high-end apartment, athletic and altruistic (or at least altruistic-appearing). To those last points, he plans to run in an upcoming marathon. Dennis, sensing that this might finally be the man to put a permanent end to his hopes of winning Libby back, decides that he too will run the marathon and prove that he isn’t just a perennial quitter. But as a guy with a prominent gut and a smoking habit that has left him easily winded, Dennis has a lot of serious training to do. Helping him in that category are his spatula-wielding landlord Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and his wastrel friend Gordon (Dylan Moran), who has a wager-induced interest in Dennis’ success.

Comic training scenes are followed by emotional crisis which lead to giving up which tumble into I-don’t-want-to-let-everybody-down resolve — Run, Fat Boy, Run jogs along at a moderate place, taking exactly the path you expect. I won’t give away the final act but I bet you could guess it with at least 70 percent accuracy. This isn’t Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz — you will neither collapse with laughter nor snarf soda in surprise.

But, hey, they can’t all be zombie parodies. Run, Fat Boy, Run fills space on the same comic shelf as a particularly good episode of Two and a Half Men or a weaker episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine. This isn’t new comedy territory but the movie does cover familiar ground well enough. Pegg’s delivery (all rubbery faces and quirky line reading) brightens every scene. And Hank Azaria is good at making his character just enough of a jerk but not so much that he’s a mustache-twirling villain — he’s basically just that guy who takes the company softball game way too seriously, and slowly that particular brand of useless ambition bleeds into other areas of his life. He is Dennis’ opposite — a guy who tries too hard at everything, even the insignificant stuff, where Dennis doesn’t try at anything, even the important stuff.

Until he does. And, like I said, you could probably predict exactly how and when he does start to care, but the Run, Fat Boy, Run generally keeps you entertained enough to prevent your mind from picking at those worn story threads. B-

Rated PG-13 for some rude and sexual behavior, nudity, language and smoking. Directed by David Schwimmer and written by Simon Pegg and Michael Ian Black, Run, Fat Boy, Run is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Picturehouse.