April 1, 2008

Movie Review: Run Fatboy Run

Run Fatboy Run is a movie I laughed out loud more times than I care to remember, and the film earned wach of those moments. As I left the theater, I had a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. Well, sort of. The bottom line is that I liked the movie; it gave us a poor shlub to identify with, an underdog who is a true underdog, not a Hollywood style underdog where some bad makeup and some glasses pass for ugly or pathetic. However, the further away from the viewing I get, I find my enjoyment becoming slightly diminished. Not to the point of dislike, let's just say that hindsight is 20/20 and looking back the flaws become a bit more pronounced and I realize that it isn't quite as funny as I initially thought. Still, it is a good comedy and well worth spending some time with, particularly if you identify with the fat guy loser.

One thing you need to be aware of going in: do not expect another Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. For one thing, there is no Nick Frost, instead you get Dylan Moran, who does a fine job, but he is no Nick Frost. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, there is no Edgar Wright, director and co-writer (with Simon Pegg) of Shaun and Fuzz. In his place you get ex-Friend David Schwimmer at the helm and Michael Ian Black as co-writer. Neither one of those two can take the place of Wright. Finally, this is not a spoof, it is not a parody, it is more of a straight up underdog story.

The high concept behind Run Fatboy Run is that some loser who has lucked into the love of a beautiful woman, and on his wedding day, he leaves her at the altar, quite literally running away down the street as all of the guests watch. As if that wasn't enough, she is pregnant. I can here you now: "what a loser!" You know what? You'd be right. Any guy lucky enough to find themselves with a beautiful caring woman would probably be running down the aisle to make sure it happened.

The story proper picks up five years later. Our loser, Dennis (Simon Pegg), lives in a small apartment, has put on some pounds, and works as a security guard at a women's clothing store. He also has visitation rights with his young son. One day when he goes to pick him up, late as usual, he has an encounter with his ex, Libby's (Thandie Newton) current beau, Whit (Hank Azaria). This encounter brings up a childlike competitive spirit, as well as the old feelings he still harbors for Libby.

What follows is something of a challenge; he agrees to enter a marathon that Whit is running in. He doesn't do this so much for the benefits of the run, or the charity that it would benefit, so much as the desire to beat Whit and prove to Libby that he is a changed man. It is all in the effort to possibly get back into her life, realizing his mistake as well as his reasons for running away in the first place, reasons that he may not have even known at the time.

Once the challenge is laid down, the film is a series of comical training sequences interspersed with encounters between the two competitors. Sprinkled throughout the comedy are some rather strong moments of fatherly parenting. The scenes between Dennis and his son are surprisingly effective and play to the strengths of the character, giving a real reason to care for him.

The movie is low-brow humor, for certain, and it does not have the polish that either Shaun or Fuzz has. Run Fatboy Run is a low budget affair with modest aspirations, much like our main character. What it lacks in ambition, it makes up with some seriously goofy comedy mixed with a heartwarming story of a loser who believes he can change, he just needs the right impetus.

Simon Pegg and Hank Azaria truly carry the heavy lifting in this movie. Pegg is a very funny guy and I hope to see him in many things to come (although I am not so sure about him in Star Trek yet). He does a wonderful job of embodying the loser, he buys into the role and I found myself rooting for him throughout. Playing his opposite, Hank Azaria plays the well off, slightly arrogant new boyfriend, someone who initially is very likable, but is hiding something a bit darker. Their comedic chemistry is considerable and is the real reason to see the film.

The supporting cast does a fine job as well, even though they have much less to do. Thandie Newton provides a lovely presence as the object of Pegg's affections. There is also Dylan Moran as Dennis' lothario pal with a gambling problem. Their thread culminates with a rather funny slap fight in a piano store.

Overall, the movie is funny, but only in fits. The characters never truly dig too far into the surface, and this is what hurts its lasting effect. Yes, it is funny, but the characters never develop or show any true growth. This fact lessens the impact, thus making the film funny in the moment but not in retrospect.

Bottomline. I still like the movie and would gladly watch it again, but it really is an in the moment thing that will not last. Your level of enjoyment will likely be tied to how much you like Pegg's brand of comedy. While it is not his strongest work, it is instantly recognizable as to the source. Best recommendation would be to wait for DVD.

Mildly Recommended.


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