Monday, March 31, 2008

Run Fatboy Run

RUN FATBOY RUN (David Schwimmer, 2007)

In a fit of last minute panic in RUN FATBOY RUN, Dennis (Simon Pegg) sprints from his own wedding, leaving behind his pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton). Five years later Dennis is wasting away as a potbellied lingerie store security guard on the verge of being evicted from his apartment. He finally realizes the magnitude of his mistake but is incapable of correcting it.

Libby allows Dennis to spend time with their son Jake (Matthew Fenton), but she's moved past thoughts of romantic reconciliation, not that she's seeking it. Plus, American financial executive Whit (Hank Azaria) is actively wooing her. He's a kind, thoughtful, and rich marathon runner. It doesn't take a genius to see that even if Dennis were to turn things around, he doesn't stack up to the competition.

Still, Dennis bristles when he sees Whit taking what he views as his still rightful place among Libby and Jake. In an irrational moment of macho posturing to diminish Whit and impress Libby, Dennis announces that he too is running in the charity marathon along the Thames in three weeks. Never mind that he's an overweight smoker who can barely jog a block without huffing and puffing.

Making his feature film directing debut, David Schwimmer paces the film well for the most part; however, like a runner, he and the movie hit the wall in the latter third. The jokes land softly, but RUN FATBOY RUN moves at a sitcom-like clip that keeps it watchable even when it isn't especially funny.

Schwimmer proves to be anonymous behind the camera the first time out. With better material, though, he could become a reliable for-hire director. He gets game performances from his cast, and Richard Greatrex's warm cinematography gives the film a rich look contrary to the cheap, washed out visuals that mar so many of today's comedies.

The screenplay is credited to Michael Ian Black, a member of the defunct sketch comedy troupe The State, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ co-writer Pegg. Despite their edgy credentials, RUN FATBOY RUN is a highly conventional comedy. Pegg punctured movie formulas for big laughs when collaborating with SHAUN and FUZZ writer-director Edgar Wright. RUN FATBOY RUN trots out the kind of tired clichés they mocked, and the film can't help but feel restrained because of it.

The uplifting sports film sequences, particularly the marathon that drags out the final third, are ripe for parody but presented in a straightforward manner. Romantic comedy tropes are lazily employed. Whit flips from great guy to conniving boyfriend because custom demands it, not due to anything developed in the screenplay.

Sometimes RUN FATBOY RUN follows the blueprint for the novel-to-film adaptations of Nick Hornby's character-driven work (HIGH FIDELITY, ABOUT A BOY), but too often it reaches for easy laughs and ignores personality and heart. At worst RUN FATBOY RUN is derivative and passably amusing. The same is true for the film at its best.

Grade: C

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