Have you heard? There are men over the age of 25 who shun romantic commitment, work dead-end jobs, hang out with their similarly infantilized friends, and make lots of pop culture references, often while getting drunk or smoking pot!
And for some reason, filmmakers just can’t make enough movies about these guys. Writer-director-producer Judd Apatow has churned out quite a few lately, from the terrific “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” to the stillborn “Drillbit Taylor,” but he’s hardly the only auteur on the block making manchild movies. The latest entry in this fast-wearing-out-its-welcome genre is “Run, Fatboy, Run,” a movie that asks us to sympathize with a doofus who would abandon at the altar a woman who possesses both the face of Thandie Newton and impressive baking skills.
That doofus is Dennis (Simon Pegg), who already dumped his pregnant bride Libby (Newton) five years earlier. Now he’s a semi-competent stepfather to their son but still a loser. When flashy American banker Whit (Hank Azaria) appears on the scene and sweeps Libby into a whirlwind courtship, however, Dennis decides to try to get his act together. Since Whit runs marathons as a hobby, Dennis announces that he, too, will compete in London’s next big race.
Complicating matters is the fact that the sedentary, chain-smoking Dennis can barely run one city block with collapsing in wheezes. The fact that his friend Gordon (Dylan Moran) will lose a massive wager if Dennis fails to complete the race doesn’t really help either. (One of Gordon’s fellow gamblers is Mike Leigh veteran Ruth Sheen, who must have lost a bet herself to be stuck in this mediocre muddle of a comedy.)
Where “Run, Fatboy, Run” fails most prominently is by creating a strong female central character, and then surrounding her with men who aren’t worthy of her. Naturally, the screenplay — by Pegg and VH1 irritant Michael Ian Black — has to turn cartwheels to make Whit into an awful person, because in most respects, he’s the better husband for Libby. But once the character flaws are tacked onto him in the final act, that leaves us with Dennis, and frankly, he’s not much of a catch either, even with all the maturing he’s supposed to be doing over the course of the film.
In “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” Pegg has shown himself to be charming and dry-witted, but not even he can redeem this twit of a character. No matter how much self-improvement and personal growth Dennis undergoes, the script makes it hard to forgive him for standing up a pregnant woman on her wedding day. The enchanting Newton similarly gives it her all, but it’s hard to understand why Libby can’t figure out that both of these men are beneath her. (She might have contemplated it in one of the many breaks in her rather flexible work schedule; don’t most bakers wake up before dawn to make the donuts — or, in this case, the crumpets?)
Moran’s slacker provides a few laughs, but “Run, Fatboy, Run” winds up being as immature and exhausting as its protagonist. Here’s hoping that contemporary comedies — and their leading men — can grow up a little.