Popcorn: “Run Fatboy Run” – 1 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Arriving at long last at the conclusion of “Run Fatboy Run,” we’ve somehow grown enamored of Simon Pegg’s Dennis Doyle, a London slacker who, in the opening scene, left poor, pregnant Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar. Per the predictable plot, he has by now performed considerable redemptive contortions. For us, it’s too little too late.

Don’t underestimate the importance of characterization in a farce. Sure it’ll be nice if the self-improvement program helps Dennis right the wrongs of his past and reignites Libby’s love. But as viewers, we need to like him from the get-go, or at least glimpse the potential. A wheezy start by Mr. Pegg precludes this dramatic requirement.

It’s not all his fault. The blame of a hit-or-miss script must be shared with co-author Ian Michael Black. And while David Schwimmer’s big screen directorial debut isn’t entirely without value, you wouldn’t want to be aboard a commercial jet manned by an inaugural endeavor of similar merit. At least “Run Fatboy Run’s” several nosedives aren’t lethal.

Pity is, this didn’t have to be a washout. You almost see the would-be humor trying to peek out from the miasma. Several times you even begin a titter, only to recede from a laugh when the joke falters. It’s especially true of the film’s earlier portions, when poor production standards, including clanky, ambient clutter on the soundtrack, distract us.

But the buck, or in this case the pound, ultimately stops with Pegg. His interpretation of an unambitious security guard who earns the title sobriquet when a fleeing, cross-dressing shoplifter tauntingly yells back, “Run fat boy run,” simply lacks verve. This is hardly the Brit comic whose novel antics flourished in “Shaun of the Dead” (2004).

It all begins with the aforementioned flight from the scene of the planned nuptials, the pregnant bride looking on in disbelief and confusion. What a cad. Next scene, it’s five years hence and the absconder arrives at Libby’s digs for his weekly visit with Jake, the little boy result of that pregnancy. The goof-off’s sheepishness with Libby says it all.

Yet at this point there’s no thought of performing some great Herculean act, a super-duper mea culpa to regain Libby’s long lost respect. Jake loves Daddy all the same. And Libby, by all definitions a saint, wants her boy to have a father. So they’re stuck with him. But not us. As far as we’re concerned, he isn’t even a particularly interesting idler.

Big deal, he’s damaged goods. Who isn’t? You’d think they’d give him some sort of redeeming quality. But this guy has no talent, and no claim to our sympathy other than that he’s a fellow human. He uneventfully splits his time among work, an apartment where the rent is perennially due and as resident kibitzer at a friend’s gambling den.

But then, suddenly, because this film is in as desperate need for an epiphany as Fatboy, jealousy serves as a life-changing stimulus. Libby has met Whit, Dennis’s total opposite acted in splendidly obnoxious fashion by Hank Azaria. The skinny is, we begin rooting for Fatboy not because he’s earned it, but because of how much we truly dislike Whit.

This neatly inserted thorn in the ego of the protagonist reminds of the estimable negative energy Basil Rathbone was often called upon to create. We aren’t supposed to know it right off, but we’ve seen enough movies to surmise that, beneath the veneer of Whit’s great job, terrific physique and luxury apartment, the dude is one really big jerk.

He is the modern day Oil Can Harry. Instead of twisting his moustache and scheming to tie our damsel to the train tracks, he aims to dazzle her with a spin doctor’s array of false attributes…to have her mistake trust and admiration for love. When he makes a big deal of running marathons for good causes, Dennis laces up his sneaks. He’ll show ‘em all.

Expect the usual training sequences, replete with essence of hope springing eternal as well as an endless assortment of stumbling blocks to the impossible dream. The biggest challenge, aside from his physical condition, is that he must represent a charity in order to enter the race. Sponsorship from Erectile Dysfunction Awareness earns an easy snicker.

Fatboy’s two coaches—a fat and philosophical Pakistani landlord (Harish Patel) and Dylan Moran as his equally lazy best friend—do little to address the film’s dearth of hilarity. Which is fine if you plan to put your funny bone on a diet. Otherwise, the slim portions of humor contained in “Run Fatboy Run” will leave you starving for laughs.

Run Fatboy Run,” rated PG-13, is a Picturehouse Entertainment release directed by David Schwimmer and stars Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton and Hank Azaria. Running time: 100 minutes

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