In "Run, Fat Boy, Run," Simon Pegg plays a character the other characters Simon Pegg has played would probably hurl beer cans at in disgust. This unrepentant loser is a far cry from the unrepentant losers he has played in his own British sitcom "Spaced" and his cult zombie flick "Shaun of the Dead." At least those slackers held their heads high, instilling themselves with enough dignity and pride to keep them from wallowing in defeat and jumping off the nearest bridge. The pitiful schlub he plays here makes those self-respecting slobs -- and self-respecting slobs all over -- look bad.
For starters, he literally bolts on his wedding day, skipping on his pregnant bride-to-be (Thandie Newton -- now who would ditch that cute, caramel treat?). Cut to five years later, he's in even worse shape -- sporting a pot belly, chasing down transvestites who steal undies out of the lingerie store where he works as a security guard, and barely being a deadbeat dad to his son.
Before we start wondering why should we even care about this shiftless lummox, he starts feeling a bit intimidated when his ex begins dating a seemingly perfect American broker (Hank Azaria). Looking to show her he's not the same guy who pulled a Road Runner several years ago, he tells her he's going to run the same marathon her new beau will be running in. This means he has to get in shape, mentally and physically, shedding the joke of a man he once was and becoming the full-fledged, responsible person he should've been years ago.
If "Fat Boy" seems more like the kind of crude yet cockle-warming comedy you usually find on this side of the Atlantic, that's because it was originally set in the States. Director David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from "Friends" is behind the camera now!) was ready to direct former "State" troupe member Michael Ian Black's debut script until a British production company bought it and transplanted the story in jolly old England. I guess I'm saying all of this because fans of Pegg shouldn't completely blame him for turning up in such a pandering, wit-deprived goof-off of a film.
While "Fat Boy" seems harmless enough, it is the sort of on-autopilot, loser-conquers-all comedy usually reserved for "Saturday Night Live" cast members when they leave the show. (Didn't Adam Sandler long retire this kind of film -- and pass it over to good buddy Rob Schneider?) Schwimmer tries to show how down he is with contemporary British comedy by casting Brit funnymen in small roles, including David Walliams ("Little Britain"), Simon Day ("The Fast Show") and, in one quickie cameo, "The Office" co-creator Stephen Merchant. That boozy lecher Dylan Moran ("Black Books") manages to walk away with a few scenes as Pegg's gambling buddy/marathon coach.
Of course, as the movie lags, you eventually do care if Pegg's schlemiel of a protagonist makes it across the finish line. If anything, Pegg, who also co-wrote the script, makes this official stock character bearable, surprisingly providing him with occasional moments of gravitas when he isn't yutzing it up for the camera. (So, how many Yiddish references is that?) For he is the underdog, and even if he is the underdog you have seen dozen of times before, you still want to see him take down any pretty boy who thinks he's better than him.