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Mon, March 31st, 2008 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jorge Khoury, Columnist

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The Running Man:
A Run, Fatboy, Run chat with Michael Ian Black

Simon Pegg in "Run, Fatboy, Run." Photo by Ollie Upton; Copyright: Picturehouse

If this is it, please let me know.

Really, is this what the men of our generation have come to? A culture where the modern day "man" is consumed with avoiding maturity by extending adolescence and running away from any commitment and responsibility that comes his way in life? Has current society damned us to forever have this "Peter Pan" disposition? Hey, don't look at me for answers. Although, I must say that watching the improbability in "Run, Fatboy, Run" of a rather ordinary thirty-something bloke named Dennis (played by Simon Pegg) running away from marrying his true love (portrayed by the lovely Thandie Newton) at the altar is probably a pretty good wake-up call for us.

The story of "Run, Fatboy, Run" ("Fatboy") comes from the mind of comedian Michael Ian Black, my favorite member of the comedy troupe The State and a veteran actor/director/writer that's best known to many for his somewhat sarcastic pop culture views on VH1's omnipresent "I Love The '70s/'80s/'90s." And although Black's original screenplay had been penned a few years back, it was David Schwimmer (yep, Ross from "Friends") that put the script on the fast track to production as the story that he wanted to shoot for his directoral debut on the big screen. With the casting of Simon Pegg (fresh off "Hot Fuzz") in the lead role, the sentimental comedy was transposed from its original New York setting to a colorful Northen London location via a rewrite by Pegg, himself, to inject British flavor and a dash of his own sensibilities into the film.

Simon Pegg and Hank Azaria face-off in Run, Fatboy, Run. Photo by Ollie Upton; Copyright: Picturehouse.

In terms of the origins for his story, Mr. Black explained, "I had just written a couple of screenplays that were less commercial, I guess, and I was looking, as a writing exercise, to write something that I considered more mainstream, and so I was just sort of batting around ideas in my head, and 'fat guy runs marathon' sounded like a kind of easy and obvious idea for what I thought would be a sure mainstream comedy." And it would be his original story that would enamor Pegg, Schwimmer, and the producers to the sentimental comedy. All that worked on the film apparently did their best to stay true to the beats and mood that Black had set. In this age of globalization, much of the original script remained the same because the concepts, pop culture references, personal dilemmas and themes are universal.

"I thought Simon really did a great job with it," the writer mentioned. "And I was terrified when I knew he was going to rewrite it because I didn't know… I've heard a lot of stories about writers coming in and just throwing out basically everything, but he really kept it pretty much intact. The screenplay that was filmed was pretty close to the screenplay that I wrote. I mean, a lot of minor things were changed, little dialogue things, little jokes, obviously locations. But the story's identical and the characters are identical."

Simon Pegg runs for his life in "Run, Fatboy, Run." Photo by Ollie Upton; copyright of Picturehouse.

As most of you have probably noticed from the ads and previews, Simon Pegg isn't exactly the poster boy for obesity. "Well, no," Black said, " because I never thought that it should be somebody who was actually fat, somebody that you would fear for their safety, where you could see them running down the street and you would think, 'somebody get that guy an inhaler.' I didn't want that to happen because I didn't think that was particularly funny. I just thought it should just be somebody who was sort of out of shape."

Unlike Black (who actually participates in ultramarathons), the character of Dennis (Pegg) isn't exactly a running enthusiast despite the fact that he's been constantly running from himself. The writer elaborated, "I don't know that his fear is really growing up so much as it is an inability to deal with conflict and with problems, and he does what I think a lot of people do when faced with opposition is just, he runs away."

After being a runaway groom five years prior to a pregnant Libby (Ms. Newton), Dennis finds himself in a rut from his job as a security guard and being out-of-shape, physically and emotionally. When he sees that Libby has a new love in her life with the arrival of the successful American businessman named Whit (portrayed somewhat reservedly by Hank Azaria of "Herman's Head" and "The Simpsons"), Dennis hits rock bottom at the thought of not only losing the love of his life, but his now five-year-old son Jake to the charismatic Yank. In a last ditch effort to reclaim his own dignity and prove himself to Libby, he enters the London Marathon with very little preparation and only a fool's hope that he can finally finish something in his life.

Dylan Moran co-stars in "Run, Fatboy, Run." Photo by Ollie Upton; copyright of Picturehouse.

On the surface, my explanation of the film's story might have sounded overly simple, because it's really the heart and message within this colorful film that makes it truly something to watch. "Fatboy" isn't a Will Ferrell/Adam Sandler-type farce where the villain is the same Hollywood standard that we've seen too many times before. The only true obstacle that Pegg's character faces is himself. Although he doesn't see it immediately, the world and characters around Dennis were always rooting for him to succeed. "I guess I'm sort of an optimist about human nature," Black told Pop!. "I find that people tend to be pretty good if you give them a chance."

In this somewhat pessimistic world, "Run, Fatboy, Run" is a real burst of sunshine that is never preachy. In the film, you'll also see London and the lively characters that inhabit it come alive under the vivid direction of David Schwimmer and its soundtrack of radiant Brit rock. Especially enlightening is the performance of Simon Pegg, who is literally in every frame, and giving us the performance of his life in this "dramedy." Also, Dylan Moran (a "Shaun of the Dead" veteran) adds a lot as Dennis's best friend, who is only comfortable when he's not wearing a pair of pants (and undies). As for Michael Ian Black, "Fatboy" is a testament to his skill in writing a crowd-pleasing story that's really sunny and brimming with sentiment.

It's nice to be reminded that we do live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do. Yeah we do.

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