Background: Simon Pegg isn't really a household name in the U.S. yet, but a rapidly growing number of movie fans know the British actor as the public face of the partnership he shares with best friend Nick Frost, with whom he co-wrote and directed Shaun of the Dead and last year's (fantastic) Hot Fuzz. Taking a break from buddy farces, Pegg somehow ended up as the leading man in David Schwimmer's (yep, same one) directorial debut, Run, Fatboy, Run. Written by comedian Michael Ian Black and originally set in L.A., Fatboy was moved to London and Pegg was added as a co-writer. Filling out the cast are Thandie Newton (Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness) and Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons," Dodgeball). If you're curious about when the next Nike River Run is, you'll have to wait for a sequel since the race doesn't actually exist. I don't think I've ever seen so many Nike swooshes in a movie.
Synopsis: Dennis Doyle (Pegg) is a paunchy neurotic who left his pregnant fiancée, Libby (Newton), at the altar five years ago. Dennis is forgetful and frequently flustered, but he's an upstanding guy and he loves seeing his now 5 year-old son, Jake, when Libby allows. We don't know much about Dennis and Libby's relationship since the wedding day, but Dennis is shocked at the sudden appearance of Libby's strapping new boyfriend, Whit (Azaria), who makes bank as a hedger and runs marathons for charities. Determined to prove his worth as a dad and as a man, Dennis plans to run in the upcoming charity marathon, the Nike River Run on the Thames - for erectile dysfunction, but against Whit. If you haven't figured out the conventional plot from this point on, you obviously haven't seen many movies, but I'll amuse you because I respect you for reading this: Dennis is coached by his best friend and his Indian landlord while Whit becomes more villainous by the hour. After an emotional setback, Dennis finds himself again just in time to set up the climactic race and predictable ending. Oh, and one important detail - somewhere in all of that a massive blister bursts open on somebody's face.
+ Simon Pegg in the moments when he actually had an opportunity to act.
+ Thandie Newton, as a character that was just a touch softer than her grating roles in Crash and The Pursuit of Happyness. The chemistry between her and Pegg worked well, too.
+ The soundtrack - especially the song playing when Libby opens the gift from Dennis.
- The deliberately frequent butt shots. Is that an inside joke or a desperate reach for cheap laughs?
- The reliance on physical comedy, especially for Simon Pegg's character. Anybody (Mr. Bean?) can fall down a flight of stairs or trip over jumpropes, but it doesn't fit Pegg well enough to work. Kind of like Steve Carrell in Evan Almighty - these aren't slapstick actors, they're clever comics. Let them shine with their natural talents.
- Some awkward editing, for which I blame Schwimmer. The bun shop scene, for example, was stuttering and overdone.
- That no creative effort was put into mixing up the predictable clichés. I thought Simon Pegg's writing credit would have added more wit to this, but it doesn't appear he did anything improve on Black's original work, and the movie suffers because of it.
- The exploding blister, which may have been appropriate in Shaun of the Dead, but was just abrupt and really gross here.
Writing - 6
Acting - 9
Production - 7
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 3
Total: 39/50= 78% = C+
Last Word: Were it not for some light comedy and my admiration of Simon Pegg, I would have really hammered Run, Fatboy, Run as the predictable and ultimately bland movie that it is. It still loses points for formulaic writing and poor production, but it's not an out-and-out bad movie primarily because the silly emotions that you think you feel for the characters are actually genuine. The credit for this goes to the actors, and not just the three established stars. Newcomer Matthew Fenton subtly adds a surprising amount of charm and cheer as young Jake, and even Dylan Moran and Harish Patel add life to their poorly written characters. David Schwimmer did nothing to impress me here, but my low expectations overall didn't give me much reason to be disappointed. I liked seeing Thandie Newton be able to smile a bit more again, and Simon Pegg can do wrong in these harmless roles. I'm a little curious about how he'll be as Scotty in next year's Star Trek, but somewhere I read that he and Nick Frost are working a screenplay where Frost stars and Pegg supports as comic book convention attendees. Anyway, he's the only reason to make an effort to see Run, Fatboy, Run, which is fine for a theater trip but probably best as a DVD rental.