One of the worst things to see at the theater is a movie with an identity crisis. There are just enough high points to keep it from being terrible, and just enough low points to keep you from praising it.
Run Fat Boy Run is two things: the new Simon Pegg movie and the new Michael Ian Black movie. Over the course of 100 minutes, it becomes clear that this joint enterprise compromises their comedic inclinations.
Certainly, Pegg is in true form – he remains steady in his recent stride, at least in terms of his performance. He is the prototypical double threat as a comedic actor who writes his own material. Anyone who’s seen Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz or even Spaced, from his earlier years, can attest to this.
Black’s humor is strictly surrealist, deadpan and vaguely intimidating. Black’s comedic work has been epitomized in Wet Hot American Summer, The State and Stella – cult classics of a very specific following.
Most of those headed in to see Fat Boy are bound to be fans of one of these two, but, unfortunately, they’ll find watered-down versions of Pegg’s Brit comedy and Black’s absurdist bite. To be sure, there are examples of both, moments that will remind fans of their greatest hits, which are clearly out of sync with what this movie ultimately ends up being.
There’s one problem that would definitely make a Pegg or Black fan flinch – the movie is far too caught up in conventionality. Every sincere moment will have the Black fan waiting for the other shoe to drop; every dramatic moment will have the Pegg fan waiting for some dialogue to invalidate the tension.
As with any movie, there are many paths the plot could have taken. Five years after leaving his pregnant bride, Libby (Thandie Newton), at the altar, Dennis Doyle (Pegg) tries to win back the affection of his ex and son by competing in the Nike River Marathon, a race along the Thames River in London, to show he is no longer the immature and unmotivated man he once was. Along the way, audiences are introduced to “the bad guy,” a physically fit, generous and seemingly good man played by Hank Azaria, who turns out to be a jerk and gets his comeuppance. Audiences are introduced to the wacky friend (Dylan Moran) who believes in Doyle and, despite much bumbling and fooling around, ends up motivating his friend.
There are certain beats a “win-him/her-back” romantic comedy usually hits, and unfortunately Fat Boy goes out of its way to hit all of them. A viewer might think, knowing Michael Ian Black, that the movie probably won’t have a happy ending. As the movie continues, that same viewer might then think, knowing Simon Pegg, that the inevitable happy ending will be nontraditional. In the last five minutes of the movie, it becomes clear there has been some misconnect, as the happy ending and a familiar crane shot of the main character and his son fade to black, an unthreatening pop-rock song starts up, signaling that this is the end. Put bluntly, Run Fat Boy Run finds two off-beat writers who’ve somehow ended up with a much more mainstream movie.
There may be a source of this misconnect, one that might be surprising. David Schwimmer directed Run Fat Boy Run. Yes, Ross from Friends. Based on Schwimmer’s career on and off screen, there is a genre he seems to thrive in — the genre of Kissing a Fool and Friends. This is not the genre of Black or Pegg. If this confusion of three types of comedies wasn’t enough, the movie was produced by Sarah Curtis, who’s spent the last 10 years producing indie dramas.
Although Run Fat Boy Run’s end result is not a failure, it simply isn’t anything special. The partnership of Pegg and Black has produced something neither fan base will be satisfied with, something mediocre. And yet, this is something that a mass audience might be inclined to see: funny title, absurd characters (even an Indian landlord!), gross-out jokes (a giant blister!) and a nice sweet ending filled with morals. Everyone else, however, may be forced to face the dreaded question: which one sold out?
Luke Marron can be reached at email@example.com.