WFTB Score: 5/20
The plot: Slobbish security guard Dennis Doyle is going nowhere, and not just because he’s out of shape. Five years ago he left his pregnant fiancée Libby at the altar, and he’s regretted it ever since; so when Libby appears on the arm of a successful, fit American called Whit, he is spurred on to run a marathon. Just one niggling issue: the race is four weeks away and he’s never run properly in his life.
I’ll let you into a little inside-the-box secret: occasionally, in fact increasingly since I’ve had to (figuratively) go out and sing for my supper, I don’t get round to reviewing a film until a few days after I’ve seen it. Being a man who cares about the accuracy of what he says, I generally like to literally re-view the film, even if half of it is on fast-forward, to confirm my opinions; but with Run, Fatboy, Run (watched about three weeks ago) I’m pretty sure I can do the film justice without seeing it again. Hopefully, ever.
Simon Pegg is Dennis Doyle, an unfit, cigarette-addicted security guard for a tiny lingerie store, living in a dingy basement flat below his landlord Mr Goshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and only just scraping a living. Dennis’ life has been defined by his cowardice five years previously when he ran away from his own wedding and marriage to Libby (Thandie Newton), at the time carrying their son Jake (Matthew Fenton).
Although relations between them are amicable for Jake’s sake, there seems to be little chance of the couple giving it another go; and when suave American banker Whit (Hank Azaria) appears on the scene, all hope is lost. At least Whit appears to be a good guy, considerate towards Jake and super-fit, but that doesn’t stop Dennis from moaning about him to his friend and Libby’s cousin Gordon (Dylan Moran), a hopeless gambler in hock to a shady group of ‘friends’, including smalltime gangster Vincent (Simon Day).
Having been humiliated by Whit whilst trying to get Jake tickets for the Lord of the Rings musical (remember that?), Dennis resolves to prove himself to Jake and Libby by playing Whit at his favourite game – ironically, running. Gordon makes a potentially lucrative but fantastically dangerous bet with Vincent and backs Dennis to complete a marathon in London by coaching him, Mr Goshdashtidar providing extra, painful motivation; however, Whit takes the wind out of his sails by proposing to Libby in grand style on her birthday, and when it comes to the race itself, Whit will go to absolutely any lengths not to be outshone.
Run, Fatboy, Run employs a comedy formula that was quite entertainingly adapted for jobless Northerners in The Full Monty but was already horribly hackneyed by the time it was used in the boorish Beerfest. Not that it needs repeating, but here it is anyway: a lovable loser at a dead end has his inadequacies rubbed in his face by someone successful but psychologically flawed, who probably also has a place in the affections of our loser’s true love (there needn’t be a kid as well, but there often is). The loser decides he’s going to get himself into shape by challenging – at ho-ho-hopeless odds – his rival at the thing his rival does best; and even though there are setbacks, and the plucky loser may or may not succeed in the specific challenge, he will reveal his enemy’s flaw and succeed in both love and life, as he has learnt valuable life lessons just by rising to the challenge.
This being the case, it’s up to Michael Ian Black as writer, Pegg as actor and co-writer, and Friends star Schwimmer as director, to breathe life, energy and jokes into a potentially over-familiar tale. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are not up to this challenge and the result is a stale, predictable lump of a film. I’m a fan of Pegg, but neither his character nor those he has a hand in creating feel like they have any connection with real people, particularly British ones. Libby has very little motivation of her own, Gordon is a lazy combination of Moran’s standard persona and Rhys Ifans’ Spike from Notting Hill, and Whit reveals a nasty streak which is utterly predictable yet out of character with what we’ve seen of him previously.
Worse, most of the film’s jokes fail to rise above the juvenile, lacking the invention of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (the latter film was prepared to try things, even if they didn’t all come off). Instead, there’s a procession of groin rubbing, blister bursting, naked bottoms and swearing in English, Asian or children’s voices, all of which is okay for a brief chuckle but hardly a platform for a feature film.
As director, Schwimmer shows very little story-telling flair, resorting to flashbacks within a quarter of an hour, a by-the-numbers training montage and a thuddingly literal interpretation of the ‘wall’ that runners face. He also opts for a typical American realisation of the race, interpreted through TV pundits who are stiff as boards: Denise Lewis and Chris Hollins are hardly big stars, so why not invent some commentators with character?
He also has Libby and Jake jumping away from the over-the-top television coverage to be at the event, a touch owing more than a little to The Truman Show. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous and thoroughly obnoxious product placement which must have paid for a fair slice of the production costs but pervades to a distracting degree; if the idea is to mimic the flavour and colour of the real London Marathon, Schwimmer fails dismally by covering everything in a garish orange.
Actually, if I absolutely had to watch Run, Fatboy, Run again, it wouldn’t be a complete disaster. It has a few funny moments, though these are everything to do with Pegg, Moran and Azaria’s talents as comedians rather than anything the director or script can bring to the party. Watching it for a second time, I’d know exactly how it all pans out. Unfortunately, I had guessed to the last detail how it would pan out within five minutes of watching it for the first time.