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Shaping up
Schwimmer, Pegg team up to create a funny, touching film

"Run, Fat Boy, Run"

Rated: PG-13

3 stars out of 4

At first glance, the pairing of English co-writer/actor Simon Pegg and "Friends" star-turned-director David Schwimmer seems like a bad idea. Pegg ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") is an off-the-beaten-path sort of guy, and Schwimmer is ... well, we don't know who he is other than Ross, but we certainly don't think of him as the ideal candidate for helming a British comedy.

A lot of people have already slammed the movie, saying it suffers from all the trappings of a sitcom, which is true. The setup is transparent, and we can see where it's going from the onset.

Lead character Dennis (Pegg) and love interest Libby (the luminous Thandie Newton) are like oil and water. Transplanted American big-wheel Whit (Hank Azaria) is surface smooth with an underlying current of snake-oil salesman. There are two "colorful" supporting characters and an adorable child. The film's detractors have a valid point.

Then, come to think of it, maybe Schwimmer was the right guy for the job.

"Friends" was a pretty good sitcom, and Schwimmer directed 10 of its episodes. The good thing about sitcoms is that they get to the point quickly and move at a fast clip. There's no room for down time. Whatever faults "Fat Boy" may have are easy to overlook because it is set up well, doesn't waste our time and is both touching and funny. You could do a whole lot worse.

It opens with groom-to-be Dennis developing cold feet and leaving the pregnant Libby at the altar. Jump ahead five years. Libby and Whit are dating, and the paunchy Dennis is working as a security guard at a lingerie shop, hating life. Dennis' only joy is the weekly visits with his son Jake (Matthew Fenton) which also allows him to keep tabs on Libby, who luckily doesn't totally hate him for what he did to her.

Desperate for anything that will make Libby think he's not a complete loser, Dennis decides he will run a marathon. Why a marathon? Because the near-perfect, physically fit Whit is doing the same thing. Yes, it's a stretch, but it does open the door for the all-important second act, in which the chain-smoking, out-of-shape Dennis must train and at least appear to be sincere for once in his life.

Because Pegg is such a regular Joe with so many foibles, we buy into the premise without a second thought and rally behind his cause all the more. If some dashing English guy named Hugh had played Dennis, we wouldn't have believed it. It also helps that Pegg is proficient at deadpan and pratfall humor. He might just be the finest, all-around British comic actor since Peter Sellers.

As for Schwimmer, this is an impressive effort. As an actor, he will probably never be able to shake the Ross character, and based on this movie, he doesn't have to. Stick with directing, dude. You're showing some real promise. (Picturehouse)