Friday, March 28, 2008

"Run, Fat Boy, Run" -- * *

Most actors-turned-directors try extremely hard to "make a name for themselves," so to speak, with their debut directorial efforts. While not always succeeding, they usually try to announce their entry into filmmaking with something that really shows off their direction, either with flashy cinematography, shot framings, camera movements or clever manner of storytelling, be it via tonal shifts, twisting narrative, etc. Or if not the techniques, they try to tackle something weighty, "important" or something substantial. David Schwimmer has taken the exact opposite route with "Run, Fat Boy, Run," a thoroughly mediocre, uninspired sorta-romantic comedy that looks and feels like an extended sit-com and manages to actually leave your mind as you're watching it. To its credit, the movie is never painful to watch, but it's a little disappointing when it starts to set in that the filmmakers have no aspirations other than a tame, going-through-the-motions type thing with no real laugh-out-loud moments/lines.

Set in London, "Fat Boy" tells the story of Dennis (Simon Pegg), an unfit slacker who still hasn't recovered from leaving his pregnant fiance Libby (Thandie Newton) at the alter five years previous. Though still in touch with Libby, and very much involved in his son's life, Dennis every day regrets his decision to run away. Now she's involved with Whit (Hank Azaria), a douchecocky, successful businessman with killer abs. Whit, charitable as he is, runs marathons for charity; Dennis, now faced with the possibility of losing his love and his son, decides to train to run the London marathon alongside Whit to prove to Libby he's worth returning to (in the context of the movie, you actually go along with the line of logic). With the help of his fat Indian landlord (Harish Patel) and his fellow slacker friend (Dylan Moran), Dennis goes through a series of set-pieces, training for the impending marathon that makes up the movies final third.

As stated, Schwimmer's direction is meh. He gets how to properly handle the material, but he does nothing to elevate it or make it rise above the script. Almost all his directorial decisions are fairly obvious, and he imposes no creative stamp on the end results, but at the end of the day, it's a competent (if unremarkable) job, and I could easily foresee him helming other comedy features down the line if he has the desire to do so. He doesn't make any embarrassing decisions here, but he does employ a fairly generic score that gives off the feel of a TV movie, and his direction makes the scripts lame punchlines even more predictable (when a character asserts "Of course I have tickets! What kind of guy do you think I am?," you know there'll be a quick-cut to same character at said event shouting "Anyone got tickets?").

Amazingly, this screenplay is credited to Michael Ian Black and Simon Pegg. Pegg is off the hook because apparently he just did a revision to transplant Black's American-set script to England, but Black's got some splainin' to do. With as warped and hilarious a mind as he has (as evidenced by "The State," "Stella" and "Wet Hot American Summer"), he has no excuse producing such by-the-numbers mediocrity that seems to have been written based off of a screenwriting how-to book with an emphasis on three-act structure and character types. You await Dennis giving a speech to his son, set to sentimental music, about how you can't/shouldn't run away from your problems, and sure enough, it' there. By the time you reach the race, you know exactly what's going to happen, but you've lost all capacity for caring. The title also promises something significantly sillier/funnier or more madcap, but what we get is rather tame and has difficulty rousing more than half-smiles. Said title also draws attention to the fact that our leading man, Pegg, is not in any way shape or form, fat. He supposed wore a little prosthetic tummy for the shoot, but even with this device, he's never more than a smidgen paunchy.

It's not that the jokes themselves are particularly awful, they're just extremely predictable and we've seen them all before again and again. The biggest reaction "Fat Boy" got out of me was a split-second cameo by "The Office"/"Extras" co-creator Stephen Merchant midway through, and even that's in the context of a joke that doesn't really work. But it's difficult to know what sort of audience this movie is even courting given how willy-nilly it goes back and forth between bottom-of-the-barrel dumbass comedy and "sweet" romantic comedy. For the latter we get cornball sequences of characters feeling guilt and making sad faces or googly eyes at their beloved, and for the former, we get gross-out jokes like a massive blister being lanced and squirting pus onto somebody's face ("That's the second most disgusting fluid I've ever had in my eye!") and a running joke that inexplicably keeps showing shots of a character's bare ass. I don't know who's going to be satisfied here; the rom-com crowd will be put off by the stupidness, crudeness and gross-out gags, while plebians looking for the latter will be bored by the pedestrian love story making up most of the movie.

Pegg is a tremendously likable presence, and brightens up anything he appears in, but it doesn't help that Dennis is a woefully underwritten role, and we're not really given any evidence that he'll be a decent husband, nor much reason for root for him in the race. He's mostly just competitive with Whit, and shows more dedication to running than to Libby. Most audiences will probably be rooting for Dennis anyway, thanks to Pegg's humor and charm, and the filmmakers should consider themselves very lucky they got him to be in it. Without him, this already-mediocre production would've gone down several notches. The one-dimensional asshole Whit, who spouts off sound bites about "success" and tells Dennis about sex with Libby, doesn't give the talented Azaria much to work with, but he's seemingly having a bit of fun in the little he gets to do. At the least, he has a chemistry with Pegg that makes me long to see the two paired together in something with a significantly funnier script.

Newton is given the least to do of all. It's kind of weird how she's alternating between shrill screaming/crying roles in "serious" works ("Crash," "The Pursuit of Happyness"), and the generic love interest in really broad, low brow movies like this and "Norbit," but hey, to each her own. In all honesty, I can't really evaluate her performance on any level, because I don't even recall if she has any lines; I just remember shots of her smiling or looking disappointed. It also struck me that it's sort-of sexist how this movie, and the formulas of convention, requires Libby to make a choice between these two guys; in real life, she'd walk away from both of them.

"Run, Fat Boy, Run" like many unsuccessful comedies of the past, tries to combine hip, funny actors and lame, conventional material, and the results are predictably incongruous. Pegg's past movies, "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," so brilliantly specialize in satirizing exactly this sort of studio-assembled movie, that at times, I mistakenly assumed certain scenes were intended as irony or parody, only to realize that the surface all there was. It's not a particularly "bad" film, but it barely tries and as a result, doesn't succeed on any real level, even as fluff. I can't imagine anyone with with any modicum of standards leaving the theater satisfied.


Blogger millar prescott said...

I just saw this last night - dude, you pegged (uh-huh) this right on. Couldn't agree more. I was expecting much, much more. Excellent review.

12:11 AM  

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