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Great fun - a lot better than I expected
on 1 January 2010
This film had been sitting in my 'to watch' DVD pile for a while. After viewing the dire 'Four Christmases' (see separate review) a few nights previously, I was dubious about sitting through another 'comedy', but with nothing else to do at 1am on New Years Day (!), I decided to stick it on. To my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be much better than I initially expected.
The basic premise is that Pegg is a well-meaning loser, who five years previously (literally) ran away from his wedding to his pregnant fiancé (Thandie Newton). Now, she's hooked up with oh-too-perfect Hank Azaria. Learning that Azaria is to run an upcoming marathon, Pegg insists that he too will run the marathon, in a bid to woo Newton back.
This film seems to have had a lot of criticisms in that it is not like Pegg's previous modern classic, 'Shaun of the Dead', and its (underrated) follow-up 'Hot Fuzz', which in turn were natural successors to TV's wonderful 'Spaced'. Well, I won't pretend for a moment that 'Fat Boy...' is anywhere on the same level of those wonderful, reference-laden offerings. BUT - it doesn't pretend to be. This is a totally different kind of story, a slightly gentler, character-based tale. Besides, wouldn't it be boring if Pegg did exactly the same kind of film all the time?!
The cast generally do well. I couldn't really warm to Newton's character, but there was enough else going on for this not to matter too much. Azaria (in case you can't place him, amongst various film roles, he does a lot of 'Simpsons' voices) isn't really in one of his best roles, but gets the job done. Although I liked 'Black Books', I've never really been a fan of Dylan Moran (who appeared with Pegg in 'Shaun of the Dead'), I generally find him too shouty; but here I actually found him quite amusing, and would say this is one of his better roles. But the highlight of the main cast, for me, is Harish Patel, as Pegg's landlord-come-trainer. Patel is great fun, and lights up every scene he appears in.
The direction is handled ably by David Schwimmer (who Pegg starred alongside in 2006's 'Big Nothing', which I would recommend if you like your comedy very black and with a lot twists). Only at a few points in the middle do things start to sag slightly, but thankfully they soon pick themselves up again. About fifty minutes in, the story does turn into more of a comedy-drama (which is why some may be against this film), but things still proceed along nicely. There are few real surprises in the plot, but even so, I did find the climatic scenes pleasing.
There are also a number of cameos to look out for, including David Walliams (as a very similar character to his Mr. Mann persona in 'Little Britain'), and Ricky Gervais' associate Stephen Merchant, to name but two. But an unexpected highlight for me was to spot children's TV legend Floella Benjamin as Newton's mother. She only has a couple of lines and appears only briefly, but I wish they had utilised her more!
The comedy is generally more straightforward than say, 'Shaun...', but there are still some good moments. However, I did feel that it couldn't always decide on the type of comedy it was going for - prime example being Moran piercing a truly massive blister on Pegg'' foot, causing it to squirt everywhere (leading to several off-colour remarks). Fairly amusing, but I found this sort of humour to be out of kilter with the film's general tone.
Although not a solid classic - maybe it would have fared better as a TV movie - I still really enjoyed this film, and give it a decent four stars. Pegg and Nick Frost are returning in the forthcoming 'The World's End' - but in the meantime, don't limit yourself, give some of Pegg's different kinds of comedy, such as this, a try.