Filmmakers, often at the behest of their glowering corporate overlords, have a longstanding weakness for undercutting even the silliest of comedies with heaping helpings of "heart." To cite one particularly egregious example, the feature-film adaptation of Coneheads wasted precious time trying to get audiences to really feel for a family of space aliens who talk and act like robots. But sometimes humor and heart prove a winning—or at least mostly winning—combination. The new Simon Pegg vehicle Run Fatboy Run—which, in spite of its title, is sadly not about William H. Taft's presidential campaign—isn't particularly hilarious or moving, but it's got just enough humor and pathos to render its myriad flaws almost forgivable. Almost.
Pegg stars as an overgrown adolescent who has never lived down fleeing the altar at the last moment instead of marrying pregnant, radiant fiancée Thandie Newton. Years later, he's reduced to working as a rent-a-cop at a women's clothing store, while Newton—who understandably has never gotten over the whole being-ditched-at-the-altar-thing—cozies up to dashing new boyfriend/marathon runner Hank Azaria. In a last-ditch effort to impress his family and win back some self-respect, Pegg decides to run a marathon, even though he's the Hollywood version of fat and out of shape, which is to say, he's maybe 10 pounds above his ideal weight.
Fatboy contains enough glowing references to Nike that moviegoers will undoubtedly wonder when exactly the venerable shoe giant opened a filmmaking division as a promotional tool. Co-screenwriters Pegg and prominent snarketeer Michael Ian Black, meanwhile, never adequately convey what the almost distressingly gorgeous Newton saw in Pegg, beyond perhaps a strange fetish for underemployed losers. After initially depicting Azaria with unexpected affection, Run Fatboy Run disappointingly transforms him into just another hiss-worthy Borington Q. Stuffingstein, little more than an artificial roadblock on the road to reconciliation. Yet Fatboy nearly succeeds in spite of itself, thanks to Pegg, who makes a character who does some detestable things seem strangely likeable. There's bittersweet humor in watching Pegg struggle to become the man he and his family need him to be, but this is still the sort of formulaic, high-concept fare it's easy to imagine Black dryly lampooning in his capacity as VH1's in-house smartass.