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Run Fatboy Run
Just last night I saw a movie called Smart People, about a college professor, who’s an uppity jerk, and his daughter, who’s even worse. The movie presented these characters almost like a bet: by the end of the movie, it challenged us, you’ll like them.
Thanks to an insightful script and genuine performances, it was successful. Now comes Run Fatboy Run, which presents us with something similar: in the very first scene, Dennis (Simon Pegg) literally runs away from his hot pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) on their wedding day. A stupid, unlikable guy ripe for redemption. The problem is, he never really becomes any more likable.
Yes, this is yet another story about a redemptive slacker; parallels can be made to Knocked Up, which also involves an out-of-shape guy who’s done nothing with his life and gets a girl pregnant. But Knocked Up‘s Ben stepped up and took responsibility.
After the opening scene, Run Fatboy Run jumps seven years, and okay, Dennis does have a relationship with his young son Jake; when he comes to pick up him up from Libby’s for the weekend, he meets her new boyfriend Whit (Hank Azaria), a successful businessman. Plagued with jealousy, Dennis finds out Whit is running a London marathon, and enters it as well in a half-baked plan to win Libby back.
Again, Dennis’s motivations aren’t sparked by love for Libby or even Jake, but by jealousy over seeing Libby with another, more successful guy. (Dennis has now grown a sizable gut and works as a mall security guard.) Sure, the screenplay makes it clear that Dennis does realize his mistake, and does genuinely want Libby and Jake in his life, but there comes a point when you say, sorry buddy, you’ve lost your chance. Especially now that she’s finally found a guy who’s so much better for her.
Well, a guy that should be, anyway. In the long tradition of by-the-numbers film plotting, Whit eventually turns out to not be a nice, friendly guy but instead a spiteful, whiny jerk. For at least two-thirds of the film, the screenplay resists the temptation to make him the requisite Evil Other Guy, and Azaria plays him as friendly and considerate, but it finally succumbs. To be fair, you can hardly blame it: if Whit really was a decent guy, Dennis would be exposed as the petty loser he is, and the film would fall apart.
The unlikable protagonist and predictable plotting would be forgiven, though, if the movie was at all funny. It’s not. The weird thing is, it doesn’t even seem to try. The original screenplay was written by comedian and actor Michael Ian Black, and was then revised by star Pegg, who set it in
London (it was originally New York) and tweaked it to fit with his own comedic sensibilities. But…very rarely does it even seem to be attempting to go for big laughs. There are two scenes I can think of: one in which Whit drops his towel in the locker room in front of Dennis (okay, pretty funny), and another involving a large blister that tonally veers way off; somewhere into the land of gross-out comedy, except without the comedy.
Will Dennis run the marathon successfully, become a real man, and win Libby back? I wouldn’t dare give anything away, but I will say I kept hoping he didn’t. There’s just no way he deserves her. Why couldn’t the New Boyfriend for once turn out to be a normal, well-adjusted guy? Why can’t Dennis face his past mistakes and accept them, and find love elsewhere, maybe with the landlord’s cute daughter?
It’s worth noting that David Schwimmer of Friends directed this. He does a good job: the film is colorful and light, and he seems content and comfortable with making a simple, feel-good comedy. With a better script, he would’ve succeeded.
Movie Grade: C
Five years ago Dennis (Simon Pegg) was at the altar about to marry Libby (Thandie Newton), his pregnant fiancée. He got cold feet and ran for the hills and he’s been going in circles ever since. When Dennis discovers Libby’s hooked up with high-flying-go-getter Whit (Hank Azaria), he realizes it’s now or never. He enters a marathon to show he’s more than a quitter but then finds out just how much sweat, strain and tears it takes to run for 26 miles. Nobody gives him a chance but Dennis knows this is his only hope to more than a running joke.