I’m not really sure why I wasn’t expecting great things from Run, Fat Boy, Run, afterall, it has a stellar cast in the shape of Simon Pegg, Hank Azaria and Thandie Newton, a screenplay originally by Michael Ian Black and then given a UK twist by Pegg, and is helmed by ex-Friends star David Schwimmer. And yet I went to the screening expecting to be underwhelmed by a damp squib.

Schwimmer directed a dozen episodes of Friends, so he certainly knows how to handle an established TV comedy, but Run, Fat Boy, Run is his first attempt at the more unforgiving nature of film. And not only that, the movie is set in London, possibly unfamiliar territory for the American Schwimmer and took three years to make.

But I needn’t have worried because Run, Fat Boy, Run is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long while. Schwimmer is confident behind the camera, and demonstrates beyond doubt that he knows how to handle the pacing of a comedy movie. Pegg is hilarious, and I think on balance I preferred this film to Hot Fuzz (2007). Yes, it’s that good.

Pegg plays Dennis, an unfit, paunchy security guard at a lingerie store, who leaves his pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) at the alter when he freaks out about not being good enough for her. Dennis immediately regrets his decision and years later still clings to the unlikely hope that he’ll get back with Libby.

Libby meanwhile has moved on and is now dating the dashing, successful Whit (Hank Azaria). When Dennis discovers that Whit will be running in the next London Marathon, he rashly announces that he too will run in an attempt to show Libby that he can change and be responsible.

Dennis’s best friend (and Libby’s cousin) Gordon (played by Dylan Moran) immediately puts a bet on Dennis’ success with the local thug (Simon Day) then becomes Dennis’ trainer, which usually involves Gordon sitting down, smoking a cigarette. Dennis’ chubby landlord Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel) becomes his assistant trainer, impressed by his changing attitude, and uses a metal spatula to smack Dennis into action.

Unlike the caricature cop Nicholas Angel that Pegg played in Hot Fuzz, Dennis is a conflicted individual, with a proper fleshed out personality and a character arc that takes the audience with him. He’s a loveable geek (a Pegg speciality) who combines physical comedy (thanks to a pair of overly tight running shorts) and verbal sparring with Whit. Thandie Newton is wonderfully natural and charming, and Dylan Moran is on top form as the incorrigible rogue, as interested in personal profit as he is in Dennis’ well-being. Only Hank Azaria (who worked with Schwimmer on Friends) seems to have teleported in from another movie altogether. Not necessarily a bad thing, but Whit feels slightly more two-dimensional than the other leads.

Don’t go into Run, Fat Boy, Run expecting the zany surrealism of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, this is a more gentle comedy, but one where the laughs keep on coming. Pegg is clawing back the comedy crown on behalf of the British from Richard Curtis, who decided that movie comedy really meant slushy chick-flicks.

And Schwimmer, whose career has meandered somewhat since the demise of Friends, has carved a new niche as a director. Together with Pegg, he’s managed to craft an engaging, warm comedy that anybody who likes hearing old ladies saying “cock!” will enjoy.

Run, Fat Boy, Run (2007)
Dir. David Schwimmer
Stars: Simon Pegg, Hank Azaria, Thandie Netwon, Dylan Moran, Harish Patel
Genre: Comedy, Drama

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