Simon Pegg's set the bar awfully high for himself with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
When he's in something like Run Fatboy Run, then, and it's pretty funny but not all that great, it's a letdown. Wise men know the secret to life is to fail early and fail often. When you suck for years on end, nobody bats an eye when you make Armageddon 2. That's why I regularly set fires at the bookstore where I work and insert 15 ethnic slurs into each of these reviews. When your bosses are used to arson and bigotry, basic competence starts to look like priceless genius.
Since I hadn't heard of Pegg before Shaun of the Dead, I can only assume that was the first thing he's ever done. Like a fool, he had to go and make it totally awesome. I hope you're happy, Mr. Pegg. I sure am whenever I watch one of your hilarious movies.
In a fit of panic, Pegg runs out on pregnant fiancee Thandie Newton on their wedding day. Five years later, he's a doughy security guard at a lingerie store, and she's seriously involved with wealthy and buffed Hank Azaria, a man so perfect he runs marathons in his spare time.
Pegg's still carrying a torch for Newton, who he sees whenever he spends time with their son. His not-so-brilliant plan to prove he can follow through on his goals and win her back is to finish the marathon Azaria will be running in three weeks from now.
His training, as usual, gets off to a slow start. But degenerate, compulsive-gambling friend Dylan Moran has bet all he has Pegg will finish the race, and with the help of Pegg's big-hearted landlord Harish Patel, he begins to believe he'll be able to make it through, whether it wins back Newton or not.
Run Fatboy Run is a romantic comedy, and the thing about romantic comedies is the side characters are usually funnier and cooler than the boring mope who plays the lead. Then again, most rom-coms don't star Simon Pegg, the UK's finest contribution to human culture since combining the bagpipes with "Amazing Grace." Though he's funniest here when teamed with Moran and Patel, the believable goofiness he brings to his family scenes cuts the sap and keeps it feeling real.
Which is more than can be said for its contrived plot. So Newton has to choose between Pegg and Azaria. I will give you three guesses as to who turns out to be the sweet, charming, heartfelt one, and who is the mean-spirited and materialistic asshole who's also bad with kids. What kind of a choice is that? Granted, Newton's character doesn't seem to exist as anything more than a nice, pleasant-looking prize, so maybe she wouldn't be able to make a harder decision when her brain is also two-dimensional.
But this laziness in the writing strips Pegg of the dignity he ends up earning: if Newton ends up back with him, is it really because he's just that good? Or is it more because if she married Azaria instead, their kids would be half pond scum?
Writer Michael Ian Black, taking time away from his busy "I Love the '80s"-appearing schedule, does better with the marathon, giving director David Schwimmer the material to make something that feels plausible yet unexpected, a little over-sweet but mostly triumphant.
That just makes the whole "guy who looks perfect gradually reveals self to be total jerk" thing all the more frustrating. As it is, Run Fatboy Run is a funny, slightly off-center movie with some heartfelt moments. When the humor dries up or gets a bit broad, the cast is always there to pick it back up in the next scene. But too much of its romance is too easy and cliched, something that exists in the movies rather than anyone's actual life. It's funny, yeah, it's just not all that different from any other romantic comedy you've ever seen.