Download Run, Fatboy, Run
First things first: though a catchy title, Simon Pegg's titular character is hardly obese, merely a little portly around the midriff. Debut director David Schwimmer's years on Friends would mean he's acquainted with the people who created the fat suit for co-star Courtney Cox's Monica, but their services weren't needed here. It immediately sets the tone for a film aiming for a little more than gross-out gags, but which delivers less than you'd hope for.
The initial conceit appears to be very slimline. We meet Dennis (Pegg) going through the commitment cold sweats on his wedding day to gorgeous and heavily pregnant Libby (Thandie Newton), before showing his running prowess by scarpering from the church. A decade on, Dennis is an in-store security guard, a part-time dad to his bright-eyed son Jake, and, worst of all, a tubby smoker.
Libby on the other hand runs a cute bakery and is falling for wealthy, super-fit American banker Whit (Hank Azaria). Coming to the realisation, in true rom-com fashion, that Libby is the one for him after all, Dennis foolishly agrees to join Whit in the 'Nike River Run', a London marathon based around the Thames. To up the ante, it's not just his relationship that's on the line, but the fortunes of his dodgy-dealing best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran), who's bet heavily on Dennis's success.
Originally designed by screenwriter-actor Michael Ian Black (Wedding Daze) for a New York setting, much credit should be given to Pegg - now listed as co-writer - and Schwimmer for successfully transplanting the tale to the UK without any obvious losses in translation.
Without knowing for sure who wrote what, it's easy to imagine that many of the digs at rom-com conventions - notably a heartfelt monologue from Dennis's landlord and eventual trainer, Mr Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel) - come from a more acerbic, self-aware British take on genre, the kind of stuff Pegg excelled at in Spaced or Shaun Of The Dead. Overall Run, Fat Boy, Run is far more Hot Fuzz than cuddly 'Friends', and that's no bad thing.
Pegg's also become an effortless leading man, more than capable of carrying a feature comedy. He's given great support by Patel and Moran's bizarre non-sequiturs as Gordon. Hank Azaria (another Friends alumni) manfully attends to the one-note villainy of Whit, particularly in a hilarious gym locker room scene. Only Thandie Newton - yet again - is stranded with a too-good-to-be-true character that weakens the 'rom', even when the 'com' is cantering along. Why does beauty on film always have to be boring?
Schwimmer evinces a light touch with the material, wisely focusing on his cast, with his budgetary constraints only showing in a few of the marathon shots. But no matter how many of the diverting sidetracks Pegg and Co barrel down (an enormous blister episode should satisfy those missing their quota of emitted bodily fluids) the film's main course is simply an unfit guy running; tough to sustain for 26-plus miles, never mind 90-odd minutes. They get there in the end and there's plenty of fun to be had along the way, but in a real comedy race, Shaun Of The Dead or Friends at its best would leave Fatboy for dust.
In a nutshell: An enjoyable if predictable ride, but Simon Pegg shows he's more than capable of going the distance