People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
  DVD Review: Run Fat Boy Run

It probably won’t come as a surprise to regular readers to learn that I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies. And it’s not because I’m an unsentimental bastard with a heart of stone (well, maybe it’s a little of that), but rather because I find that, more than any other genre, romantic comedies adhere to a very strict formula, even when they’re pretending not to. Now, I’m very much a genre-movie guy (granted, more traditional geek genres like sci-fi, action, crime, etc.), so I understand the importance of tropes to any genre, but I find most romantic comedies so predictable that they barely hold my attention.

But Run Fat Boy Run was supposed to be different. It was co-written by and stars the great Simon Pegg, one of the geniuses behind the brilliant movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well as the wonderful British sitcom Spaced (which just came out on DVD here in North America; seek it out immediately). And as much as the zombie angle of Shaun of the Dead gets most of the attention, when you break the plot down it’s really a romantic comedy, something even the filmmakers acknowledged, dubbing it a romantic zombie comedy, or “rom-zom-com.” But sadly here Pegg’s presence, while elevating Run Fat Boy Run above the worst of the genre, doesn’t give the movie the boost it needs to be anything above average.

The movie opens with the wedding of Dennis (Pegg) and his pregnant fiancée, Libby (Thandie Newton), in a low-key, at-home ceremony. But Dennis gets cold feet, jumping out a bedroom window and literally running away from his wife-to-be and unborn child as fast as his legs will carry him. Cut to five years later and Dennis is an out-of-shape security guard at a small women’s boutique in London. He still sees Libby on occasion when he picks up their young son as part of their shared-custody arrangement, which is where Dennis is introduced to the new guy in Libby’s life, Whit (Hank Azaria). Azaria’s great as that old rom-com staple, The New Boyfriend. At first I was encouraged by how much of a dick he wasn’t; the film does a great job, at the beginning, of quietly hinting at his jerk-like qualities, making the odd aside about Dennis’ dead-end job (Whit’s a successful hedge fund manager, or something), but he seems at first like a perfectly nice guy who will give Libby the life that Dennis feels she deserves – and that he can’t provide.

After a reasonably strong start, Run Fat Boy Run goes from promising to unfortunately generic. Whit, as it happens, runs marathons regularly, and in a great example of logic that exists only in movies, Dennis decides that he’ll prove his worth to Libby by running a marathon himself, despite the fact that he’s a paunchy chain-smoker who can’t run a block without getting winded. But given that Dennis left his pregnant fiancée at the altar, one of the most awful, humiliating things he could have done without breaking any laws, the idea that he thinks he can mend that fence by running 42k is more than a bit ridiculous. And as much as the movie does try to acknowledge this (somewhat weakly), I personally couldn’t get past Dennis’ cowardly, awful behaviour at the opening of the film, so I found it hard to sympathize with him at all, no matter how hard the movie tried to convince me that he’s not actually a bad guy.

Run Fat Boy Run was directed by former Friend David Schwimmer, and while he’s a competent enough filmmaker, he lets his sitcom roots show a bit too much. The screenplay was originally written b'Whoa, wait a sec. This marathon is HOW long?'y comic Michael Ian Black, veteran of cult sketch comedy shows The State and Stella, and Pegg rewrote it, relocating the film from its original setting of New York City to London. The State and Stella both feature absurd, out-there comedy (what little I’ve seen of both is a bit too consciously strange even for my tastes), and Pegg is, as I’ve mentioned, a freaking genius, so I was stunned by how pedestrian the jokes in Run Fat Boy Run were. As much as romantic comedies aren’t my thing, I could have forgiven a lot if the comedy bits were actually funny. I had a few chuckles at some of the smaller, more subtle jokes, but Schwimmer’s take on the material was too broad for my tastes, particularly one incongruous gross-out gag (which I won’t spoil) that sticks out like a sore thumb, as if someone edited in a discarded joke from an American Pie or Harold and Kumar movie. Couple this with a groan-inducingly clichéd climax, and it adds up to a missed opportunity to make a nicely unconventional romantic comedy.

As the final credits rolled, I was ready to dismiss Run Fat Boy Run as a misfire. It wasn’t poorly made, but I didn’t laugh very much, I never once bought into the romance, and the plot contrivances were hokey to the point of being laughable. But then something occurred to me. At a previous job, part of my duties included reviewing records, and we had a bizarre mandate to only say nice things, which meant I often found myself having to pen glowing reviews of Britney Spears or Enrique Iglesias albums, regardless of what I actually thought of them. I had to try to find merit in stuff I personally didn’t enjoy. I had to try to access a headspace in which a person could genuinely dig a Good Charlotte or Toby Keith song. I had to understand how, even if I didn’t like something, someone else might (I’ve long held that just about any movie, no matter how bad, is probably someone’s favourite). I’m opinionated about movies, and part of that, to me, means respecting other peoples’ opinions as well. And when Run Fat Boy Run was over, my first thought was, “My parents would probably love this movie.” So as much as Run Fat Boy Run wasn’t my cup of tea (and my grade reflects that), it may very well be yours.



The commentary track on Run Fat Boy Run features Schwimmer, Newton, Pegg and Pegg’s mom. At first I thought it was a joke, but nope, Gill Pegg is there. I think she barely utters four words during the course of the film, and seems to be just sitting there in the background doing something else. But what’s advertised as a quirky, fun commentary thing jusPegg learns about the storied pain-gain relationshipt becomes weird in a way I can’t quite articulate (did she just not have anything better to do that day?). Beyond that, the commentary track is surprisingly dull, considering there are at least two genuinely funny people on it; Pegg is charming and warm, but Schwimmer seems to take the film a bit too seriously for his own good, and Newton barely says anything except to fawn over the child actor who plays her son.

There’s also a collection of deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Schwimmer – he’s even more sleep-inducing by himself – that add nothing. There’s a gag reel that’s kind of amusing, as well as a weird little practical joke thing (Newton swapped Pegg’s water bottles at a press junket for vodka), and the usual assortment of trailers.

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