Dennis Doyle (Pegg) is a security guard in a woman’s clothes shop and it’s been five years since he left his pregnant bride Libby (Newton) at the alter. Don’t judge him too harshly as Dennis isn’t really a bad man, it’s just that he like many modern men has a massive fear of commitment. In Dennis's case, his affliction is so chronic it keeps him from being able to see almost any task through successfully without screwing it up. He pines for his lost love and while he still tries to be a good dad to his son, this same affliction means he occasionally screws that up too.
One day while picking up his son he discovers that Libby has a new man in her life, a seemingly perfect American called Whit (Azaria). Whit is everything Dennis is not. He’s slick, smart and successful. He works out religiously and even runs marathons for charity. Struck down by jealousy Dennis misguidedly agrees to run against Whit in one of his marathons, convinced that by doing so he'll can prove to Libby he can change. One problem though. The run is only a few weeks away and while Whit is fit and prepared, Dennis is a chain-smoking, beer swilling slob.
Simon Pegg was born to play the sympathetic everyman role and he capitalizes on that ability here, perfectly capturing Dennis as an emotionally immature man who finds it easier to find excuses for his own failures rather than face up to them. It’s a character who’s not hard not to identify with because of Pegg’s ability to make him seem a like person, who, despite some failings always has his heart in the right place.
Hank Azaria too works well as the supposedly perfect Whit. Unfortunately his character suffers from Scripted Personality Defect Disorder. Basically this boils down to the fact that a film like this needs a “villain”. So this means at some point the seemingly perfect man must turn out to be not so perfect and this is part of where Run Fat Boy Run falls flat. There’s no real logic at work here. In fact there’s no attempt to deal with a new boyfriend who might actually be a half-decent guy. Whit simply exposes himself to be an ass in three easy steps, because we all know this be an eventual requirement of the film’s all-too-familiar story.
Azaria’s best scenes are those where he and Pegg interact. Both men play to their strengths creating, in a comedy environment, an all too realistic portrayal of two guys jealous of each other in their own way but forced together. It’s to the film’s credit that even in the middle of the comedy, Run Fat Boy Run manages these bizarre human moments.
Run Fat Boy Run is the directorial debut of Friends alumni David Schwimmer and although not perfect, Schwimmer has managed to create an amusing slapstick rom-com. He makes good use of the London setting and also occasionally stops the crude jokes long enough for some rather real moments which catch you off guard. For example Thandie Newton isn’t given much to do aside from react to the other two leads, however she does share a couple of dramatic scenes with Pegg. They discuss their relationship and things don’t necessarily go where you might expect, as most of the credit for Run Fat Boy Run’s successes lie in its cast, definitely not its script. The script is more clichéd than a Brosnan Bond movie. Very little of it pans out other than you’d expect so you know exactly how it’s going to play out within the first 5 minutes.
If Run Fat Boy Run has one thing really dragging it down however, it’s that it has an over-reliance on one joke-type: inappropriate cussing. Used sparingly, the swearing granny, child or TV anchorman can be hilarious comic relief in any kind of movie (except perhaps one starring Russell Crowe or Christian Bale), however in Run Fat Boy Run it’s used to the point of excess. Because of this excess the gags becomes telegraphed and inevitably lose some of their value. You know the character will blurt out a poorly timed expletive, simply because you’ve seen them do it the entire film. I’m no prude but in a movie rated suitable for 13 year olds the level of general bad language in use is rather shocking. I know most modern kids know words that would make R. Lee Ermey blush, but parents be warned.
Run Fat Boy Run is often funny (Pegg and sidekick Dylan Moran have a hilariously absurd fight scene which is like a bumfight version of Roddy Piper and Keith David‘s match up in They Live) and touching in places but the plot is tired and has been done before and done better. The only new thing here is the nature of the challenge between the film’s protagonist rivals.
The movie never goes far enough to capitalize on its rare moments of honesty, had it done so there might have been enough here to make it stick out from the standard rom-com we’re all used to. Instead, Run, Fay Boy, Run is a bit like its main character: it’s plain, it’s quite amusing and it’s heart is in the right place, but it seems to lack the aspirations necessary to overcome its failings.