Since the “chick flick” moniker continues to stick, it’s only fair that male-targeted incarnations of the romantic comedy receive an equally derogatory nickname now that they’re all the rage. I nominate “dick flicks” over David Denby‘s more diplomatic “slacker striver romance” designation — certainly the subgenre’s preoccupation with penis jokes earns the label. As outlined by the New Yorker critic in an article last year heralding the crop’s crystallization with “Knocked Up,” the flicks typically focus on an unmotivated and immature man as he kicks and screams his way towards reformation for the love of a good (and hot) woman. “Run Fatboy Run” fits so uncomplicatedly into this mold, you can imagine how paint-by-numbers it plays.
Which is too bad, because a cursory glance at the incongruous comedic mash-up of talent involved in “Fatboy” — directed by ex-“Friend” David Schwimmer, and scripted by “The State” comedian and perennial VH1 commentator Michael Ian Black and British star Simon Pegg — raises eyebrows and expectations. So how does one account for the movie’s lack of daffy imperative, its complete capitulation to convention? No infusion of the inspired infantilism of any episode of Black’s regrettably defunct “Stella” animates the project. The forthcoming comedic overhaul signified by Pegg’s involvement given past outings in genre spoofs “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” never arrives; you can only scratch your head, wishing the actor would bring self-awareness to his rom-com confines with a wink and a nudge. And Schwimmer’s pedestrian direction doesn’t help elevate the formulaic material; clearly this is a failed group effort.
The movie stars Pegg as Dennis — “I’m not fat, just unfit,” he protests — and opens with him hightailing it outta the house on day of his wedding to a very pregnant Libby (Thandie Newton). Cut to five years later: Dennis works as a security guard for a lingerie store and is perilously behind on his rent. But Libby, despite the dastardly past deed, regularly allows him to see their son. Obviously, Dennis still loves her (later explaining why he ran: “I thought spoiling your day would be better than ruining your life”), and how could he not? She’s everything he isn’t: As embodied by Newton, nigh on perfect (which is not to say Libby’s an interesting or well-developed character). But Dennis apathetically rests on his remorse until sparred into action by the entrance of new beau Hank Azaria as the dashing American, Whit. Decent-seeming at first, the hedge-fund manager and for-fun marathon-runner soon reveals himself to be as obnoxious as his name sounds. You can guess where Dennis takes it from here: Defeat Whit in a marathon, win back the girl.
Along the way, the usual repertoire of potty humor (father-son bonding over farting noises) and gross-out gags (including a giant, exploding pustule) will be trotted out. A dash of local London color will be thrown in by way of Dennis’s zany Indian landlord, Mr. Goshdashtidar (Harish Patel); that’s “Mr. G.” for short. And, in the coup de grace, after a spinning class with Whit, Dennis, via careful framing, will serve to visually block out Whit’s bits from audience view as the Yank holds court in the locker room — comfortably naked and too-close-for-comfort — taking his sweet time toweling off to Dennis’s supreme dismay. And thus does our leading man become a literal dickhead.
[Kristi Mitsuda is a Reverse Shot staff writer.]
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