My second sports-themed romantic comedy of the weekend, Run, Fat Boy, Run, is better than Leatherheads, but not by much. It appears to have been assembled from a kit, and has some thoroughly unbelievable moments, but it also has a warmer heart than the George Clooney film.
The “Fat Boy” of the title is Dennis, a slacker and man-child, played by Simon Pegg (he says he’s not fat, just unfit). As the film opens, he is about to be married to Libby, played by Thandie Newton, who is also pregnant. Dennis, though, isn’t quite ready for marriage, and responds by going out the window and running away. Five years later he’s still in an arrested state of development, working as a security guard in a lingerie shop and doting on his son, Jake. Then he learns that Libby is dating an overachiever, Witt (Hank Azaria), and though he had his chance at marrying Libby but gave it up, he’s suddenly jealous. Witt runs marathons, and will be running in one soon, so Dennis impulsively decides he will, too.
Just by reading this summary bells of warning may go off. First, it’s a challenge to the imagination to believe that Dennis and Libby would have ever been together. Pegg plays Dennis as having few obvious redeeming qualities, and Libby seems far too sensible to have wasted her time with him. Then we are asked to believe that someone who looks like Thandie Newton wouldn’t have had a serious boyfriend in the five years since she was left at the altar. Can’t buy that one.
Will Dennis finish the marathon? Will he win the affection of Libby from Witt? Do we even need to ask these questions? The screenplay, by Pegg and Michael Ian Black (Black is the original author of the script, and it somehow got its location changed from the U.S. to England) has a lot of seams showing. We have several obvious components of the generic romantic comedy: Dennis has a quirky best friend, played by Dylan Moran, who seems to have wandered in from a more interesting movie (he has the film’s best line when he says, “The only relationship I ever had ended with a broken collarbone and a dead meerkat.”) We have the character who imparts sage advice, and as usual, it comes from someone of a non-Caucasian ethnicity (this time Indian). Then there’s the character of Witt, who is the latest in a long-line of characters who are the “wrong guy,” in that though they are far more responsible than the hero, also are, at heart, an asshole.
But Run, Fat Boy, Run has a certain charm that may hook you, especially during the climactic race. The direction, by David Schwimmer, who is the latest sit-com actor to turn director, is about as visually interesting as an episode of Friends, and has some bad clunks along the way, including a montage at the ten-minute mark of what we’ve already seen before (Schwimmer must have expected viewers with short memories). But I will admit that the climax, as sappy as it is, did tug at the heartstrings. Maybe I’ll hate myself in the morning for it.