The final word in the title of A Fantastic Fear Of Everything is a bit of an exaggeration. Jack (Simon Pegg), a paranoid professional writer, is primarily afraid of two things: serial killers and Laundromats (or launderettes, as they’re called in England). The former makes perfect sense, especially given that Jack is currently researching a book on the subject, desperate to escape the straitjacket created by the success of his series of children’s books about a lovable hedgehog. His refusal to do his laundry anywhere but in his own sink, however, stems from a horrible childhood, to which this scattershot comedy occasionally flashes back as it sends its hero on a nightmarish adventure involving coin-operated washers and dryers. Presumably, somebody felt that A Fantastic Fear Of Detergent wouldn’t sell many tickets or downloads, but the film’s whimsical specificity, random though it frequently seems, is the main thing it has going for it.
Part of the problem is that Pegg—an inspired comic actor when he has someone equally skilled (usually Nick Frost) to bounce his manic energy off of—spends a large chunk of this movie on his own, cowering in the shadows and providing a running commentary of his thoughts via voiceover narration. Early scenes suggest a story about a man too timid to function at all, jumping at the slightest noise and suspicious of everyone he encounters; Jack has a wild shock of hair that makes him look perpetually alarmed anyway, and his constant nervousness threatens to get old in a hurry. So first-time writer-director Crispian Mills engineers an important, hastily arranged meeting with a potential publisher, to which Jack has nothing suitable to wear. This requires an emergency trip to the nearby launderette, where Jack inadvertently terrifies the other patrons, falls for a beautiful young woman (Amara Karan), and discovers that laundry and serial killers aren’t necessarily as far removed from each other as one might reasonably assume.
Mills has no track record of any kind, even in television, and the evidence here suggests that he’s a much stronger director than writer. The movie’s most inspired joke is predicated entirely on careful blocking and camera placement over a period of several minutes, whereas what might have been its funniest sustained gag—Jack accidentally gluing a huge knife to one of his hands, making him appear to be a deranged killer rather than the potential victim he fancies himself—gets ruined by Mills’ failure to have the guy even attempt to state the obvious (“it’s glued to my hand”), even when police officers have stun guns aimed at his chest. Pegg does his best with the material, but A Fantastic Fear Of Everything is more amusing than uproarious, and often not even that; it plays like a couple of over-extended sketches featuring the same thinly drawn character. Odd phobias alone only take you so far, even if you try to hype them.