HOLLYWOOD — The most immediate and glaring problem with “Run, Fat Boy, Run” is that it’s lacking a “fat boy.”
It might be very American to think so, but Simon Pegg, the British comedian of “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” is not portly by any means, but merely — as he asserts himself in the film — “unfit.”
A sense of mismatched talent pervades “Run, Fat Boy, Run,” a comedy starring Pegg, directed by David Schwimmer (“Friends”) and co-written by Michael Ian Black (MTV’s “The State,” the film “Wet Hot American Summer”).
All three have been better. “Run, Fat Boy, Run” contains neither the madcap absurdity of Black, the easy farce of Pegg or Schwimmer’s knack for tender humor. Instead of coalescing, they’re each running their own race.
Pegg is Dennis, a slovenly security guard and basement-dweller who five years ago made the unfathomable decision to walk out — or rather run out — on Thandie Newton. If as an audience we can’t take our eyes off Newton (“Crash,” “The Pursuit of Happyness”), it’s hard to accept that an “unfit” security guard would leave her at the altar.
But that’s what our protagonist does, and on top of that, Libby (Newton) is pregnant — which makes Dennis’ cowardice essentially unforgivable. Fast forward five years later and lo and behold, Dennis is regretting his decision. During visits to pick up their son Jake (Matthew Fenton), Dennis sees that Libby is dating the very put together, confident hedge fund manager Whit (Hank Azaria).
(Let it begin now: Hedge fund managers will make ripe villains and suitable subjects of envy for Hollywood’s next ten years. It’s only a matter of time until one plays James Bond’s nemesis.)
Predictably, a spirit of competition begins between Dennis and Whit, and soon enough, Dennis is attempting to beat Whit at his own game: jogging. What follows is a hackneyed plot filled with training montages and the shopworn story of a schlub trying to fix his life by proving himself in a single, meaningless event — in this case, a marathon.
The film is set in London, a switch that was made to Black’s New York-set script by Pegg, who gets a co-writing credit. One feels any initial originality in Black’s draft was snuffed out in transplanting it to London and adapting it to Pegg’s style.
This is Schwimmer’s directorial debut, though he found practice directing 10 episodes of “Friends” and two episodes of “Joey.” Schwimmer shows some skill by keeping the mood light and making no notable missteps, but he still comes away looking like someone trying, and failing, to play Judd Apatow, the reigning champion of realistic, emotional comedy.
The only one who successfully carves out his own voice in “Run, Fat Boy, Run” is Dylan Moran, who plays Dennis’ best friend. Moran, previously seen on the peripheries of “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” and “Shaun of the Dead,” has a vacant deadpan that Bill Murray would approve of.
“Run, Fat Boy, Run,” a Picturehouse release, is rated PG-13 for some rude and sexual humor, nudity, language and smoking. Running time: 97 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.