Simon Pegg as Dennis
Thandie Newton as Libby
Hank Azaria as Whit
Dylan Moran as Gordon
Harish Patel as Mr. Ghoshdashtidar
India de Beaufort as Maya Goshdashtidar
Matthew Fenton as Jake
Simon Day as Vincent
Ruth Sheen as Claudine
Tyrone Huggins as Grover
Nevan Finegan as Mickey
Directed by David Schwimmer
The presence of Simon Pegg and Dylan Moran elevates what might have been merely a pleasant, harmless but ultimately forgettable romantic comedy, as the duo take even the most obvious physical gags and take them to funnier places.
Five years ago, Dennis (Simon Pegg) ran out on his pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) on their wedding day, but now when he meets her well-to-do boyfriend Whit (Hank Azaria), Dennis realizes that the only way to win her back is to prove he can commit, so he decides to enter the grueling Nike River Run marathon.
On paper, a movie set around a London marathon from a script written by a member of an oddball New York comedy group and directed by "Ross" from "Friends" would seem like a set-up for disaster and embarrassment, but in fact, "Run Fatboy Run" carries itself well, and often surpasses its "romantic comedy" genre with some smart laughs, mostly thanks to the involvement of its star and co-writer Simon Pegg.
Pegg's Dennis is a nice guy, but you wouldn't think so from the film's prologue in which he freaks out and does a runner on his pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton). Five years later, Dennis' life is noticeably worse, as he's living on his own and working as security guard at a women's shop, while Lindy has moved on, had their baby and is running a busy London bakery. Dennis holds onto hope they'll get back together, which seems less likely when he Libby's new boyfriend Whit (Hank Azaria), a wealthy, good-looking and physically fit guy who is Dennis' polar opposite. Desperate to win Libby back, the out-of-shape Dennis vows to run the Nike River Run marathon against Whit, enlisting his best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran) and wacky landlord (Harish Patel) to help with his last minute training.
Based on an original screenplay by TV comedy vet Michael Ian Black, the plot tends to veer away from typical romantic comedy fare, though it's not nearly as eccentric as you might expect, and it's often obvious what Pegg brought to the mix in terms of making the humor more his own within the film's London setting. As one would expect, Pegg is generally likeable as Dennis, an irresponsible loser cut from the same cloth as Shaun ("of the Dead"), played in a way where you can't help but root for him to win Libby back even though the odds are firmly stacked against him. The biggest surprise is how good Pegg is with the adorable kid that plays his five-year-old son, because their scenes together really make you smile as it adds another level to the storytelling.
The rest of the cast is also very good. The always lovely Thandie Newton is perfectly cast as the woman Kevin is trying to hold onto, and she definitely seems worth fighting for, especially against a yuppie ass like Hank Azaria's Whit. Whit really makes the competitive scenes with Pegg a lot of fun, even if it's obvious how outmatched Kevin is. Most of the film's silliest bits involve Kevin's cranky landlord Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and his exceedingly hot daughter Maya (India de Beaufort) and there are a number of similarly unnecessary satellite characters and subplots as various individuals bet on whether Dennis will run the race.
David Schwimmer proves himself to be a capable director, making the film look far better than its presumably lower budget although the movie does feel disjointed at times as the story meanders through Kevin's day-to-day life until the point where he starts preparing for the marathon. There's nothing nearly as intelligent as Pegg's previous work with Edgar Wright, relying more on physical humor to get laughs, as well as a gross-out scene in which Gordon has to pop a giant blister on Dennis' foot. The only reason stuff like that works as well as it does here is that Pegg and Moran are so well-matched, maybe even better than in "Shaun" where they played pseudo-rivals, that they take every gag as far as they can to get laughs even when they get overly ridiculous.
There are minor quibbles with deliberately vague plot points like why Whit hasn't met either Dennis or Gordon (who also happens to be Libby's cousin) despite having been in a serious enough relationship with her to propose, and the ending gets somewhat predictable and cheesy, because being a romantic comedy based around a sports event, there's little place for the film to get except to try to build suspense around whether Kevin will finish the race or not. The film does more with its obvious ending than others might have done and it does little to detract from enjoying the rest of the film for what it is.
The Bottom Line:
There aren't a ton of huge laughs but there's enough to make you smile and snicker and if you're a fan of Pegg—and really, who isn't?—then you should appreciate how he takes his loveable loser role to a new level by showing some of his unplumbed skills. When it comes down to it, Pegg is just too likeable not to be won over despite some of the film's sillier bits.