An American comedian and comic actor with a highly successful entertainment franchise in the US decides to branch out and make a film in England, about a befuddled man trying to gain self-esteem and win back the affections of his son and his former girlfriend, the kid’s mother. The latest Woody Allen project, right? Wrong. The latest David Schwimmer project, Run Fatboy Run.
Borrowing a leaf from Allen — now well into his English Period after Cassandra’s Dream, Scoop, and Match Point — the former star of Friends is now an official ex-pat. He sets his directorial debut in London, where klutzy Dennis Doyle (Simon Pegg from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) wants to reunite with Libby, the woman he literally ran away from on their wedding day a few years earlier (Thandie Newton of Crash and Pursuit of Happyness), and to continue eagerly bonding with their son, Jake (Mathew Fenton). Sounds vaguely like Manhattan, doesn’t it? Meanwhile there’s Libby’s loathsome yuppie suitor, a hedge fund trader named Whit (Hank Azaria), who needs getting dropped down a well. Bears a resemblance to Cassandra’s Dream, no?
Clearly Schwimmer is trespassing on Allen’s hunting ground. It’s all very confusing. So here’s a handy guide to help perplexed movie audiences sort it all out:
“How to Tell an English David Schwimmer Movie from an English Woody Allen Movie”:
1) Underachiever Dennis works as a security guard in a women’s clothing store, where he chases down transvestite shoplifters and gets caught humping a mannequin, courtesy the screenplay by Pegg and Michael Ian Black. Allen would never write such a clownish, Roberto Benigni-ish character. His Englishmen own Italian restaurants or work as tennis pros.
2) Dennis gets busted for buying movie tickets for Lord of the Rings from a policeman posing as a scalper — not for murder most foul.
3) Dennis is a good loser. Compare to the rascally sore losers of Cassandra’s Dream and Match Point.
4) A smoker and drinker with a beer gut, Dennis seeks to redeem himself by running a marathon. In his earlier films, Allen’s protagonists would rather publish a bestseller or write an essay on Marcel Ophüls in The New Yorker. These days, their redemption is to get rich as quick as possible.
5) Thandie Newton is far more attractive than Scarlett Johansson.
6) The character of Gordon (played with great gusto by Dylan Moran) is a metrosexual variation on the Gay Best Friend, a device former TV star Schwimmer understands well. Allen doesn’t do Gay Best Friends; he prefers Middle-Aged Off-Broadway Actress Best Friends.
7) Run Fatboy Run features major product placement for Nike. Allen’s taste in P.P. runs to Ralph Lauren, Cartier, and Jaguar.
8) Schwimmer can’t resist the requisite gross-out scene, a staple of PG-13 humor ever since the Farrelly Bros. overhauled American comedy in the ’90s. Here, Gordon helps Dennis deal with a huge blister on the sole of his foot, and is rewarded by having the thing pop a load of goo on his face. Har har. Allen wouldn’t be caught dead doing a bodily function joke, unless it involved Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Hayley Atwell, Emily Mortimer, Téa Leoni, Winona Ryder, Elisabeth Shue, Drew Barrymore, or Mira Sorvino.
Schwimmer evidently conceived Run Fatboy Run as a New York romantic comedy, but retooled it when the property was acquired by an English company. With its homogenized combo of sweet-natured light laughs, harmless ethnic stereotyping (particularly Dennis’ bulbous landlord, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar), schnook-makes-good upward striving, and soft-as-shite Brit local color, it really belongs to the “Funeral” school of romantic comedy, alongside Four Weddings and a Funeral and Death at a Funeral.
The money is on bare-bummed actor Dylan Moran, who, despite being involved in the Michael Winterbottom/Steve Coogan shambles A Cock and Bull Story, created and starred in the highly rated comic TV series Black Books. As for Schwimmer, he can schwim back and forth across the Atlantic as often as he wants for comedies like Run Fatboy Run. Nothing to be embarrassed about here. Though the kick-in-the-balls scene does run on a bit.
Michael Radford has a legitimate excuse for setting his mild-mannered heist pic, Flawless, in London’s financial district — he’s English. The British international helmer (The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, Il Postino) will always be fondly remembered for his version of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its unrelentingly somber performances by John Hurt and Richard Burton (his last), but this is not one of his best.
Flawless takes place in 1960 for two important reasons. First, its story of a female executive (Demi Moore) for the world’s largest diamond firm getting inveigled into an inside-job vault robbery by a seemingly innocuous custodian at the same firm (Michael Caine) would be implausible unless it happened in the days before sophisticated electronic security systems. The second reason has to do with Moore’s lonely, frustrated Miss Quinn and her tenuous position at the all-male company, where she is treated dismissively by the boss (Joss Ackland), a repugnant character whose business depredations give ample cause for the “blood diamond” protests already beginning to crop up.
Thus, Miss Quinn’s motive for helping Caine’s Mr. Hobbs steal 100,000,000 pounds sterling worth of diamonds is revenge for her boss’ sexist glass ceiling, among other social crimes. Mr. Hobbs’ motive is less apparent. There’s also the puzzling question of how he manages to hide two tons worth of nicked stones before leaving the building.
These procedural brainteasers are the main reasons to sit still for a mopey character study only half-convincingly tricked out as a heist thriller. One-time youth-market princess Moore, now in full career-revival mode (Bobby, Mr. Brooks), does a creditable job keeping Miss Quinn’s slow burn going for the full running time. Caine, on the other hand, has probably portrayed more complicated men than Mr. Hobbs at dinner party pantomimes. Better to keep your eye on the spirited hamming of diamond king M.K. Ashtoncraft (Ackland) and Derren Nesbitt’s equally villainous insurance mogul Sinclair, whose late-innings falling-out has all the blustery fire so conspicuously lacking from the rest of Flawless.