Denial, it's been said, isn't a river in Egypt. But some people seem intent on swimming in it anyway. For Dennis Doyle, an underachieving chain smoker whose torso looks like a burlap bag brimming with lumpy oatmeal, wading up that proverbial stream sounds something like this: "I'm not fat. I'm unfit."
The fact is, Dennis has a hard time with reality and responsibility. Starting with the fact that he left his bride-to-be, Libby, waiting—and pregnant—at the altar while he fled in the opposite direction. Fast-forward five years, and Dennis is starting to get a clue. His commitment-phobic choice has cost him the love of his life. And it's a dead-end life at that, as he kicks around aimlessly in his disheveled, all-too-bachelor apartment.
But motivation makes an unlooked-for cameo appearance in Dennis' life the day he goes to spend time with his young son Jake—and meets Libby's new man, Whit. The American businessman is everything Dennis isn't. He's affluent, attentive, committed ... and passionate about running. As Whit holds forth about his training for an upcoming marathon, Dennis spontaneously commits to the unthinkable: running the race himself to win back Libby's respect and her heart.
With the help of his party-lovin' cousin, Gordon, and his even-pudgier landlord, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar, Dennis laces up his trainers and prepares to run the race of his life—a marathon that virtually everyone is convinced he won't have the will to finish.
Dennis is liberal and unselfconscious when it comes to heaping affirmation on his son. When Jake runs away after being rejected by a girl, Dennis knows where to find him. He says, wisely, "You can't just run away. It doesn't solve the problem"—the very lesson he's grappling with as well. Dennis shows he's learned that important truth when he perseveres despite an injury in the marathon.
Gordon is as flakey as Dennis, but he's good-natured and determined to help Dennis understand life and to complete the marathon. He also selflessly gives his Rolex watch to a cabbie when neither he nor Dennis can pay.
For her part, Libby is painfully straightforward but honest about her assessment of Dennis' character: "You've never finished anything," she tells him. Her accurate words about his life motivate him to change.
Mr. Ghoshdashtidar assesses Dennis' reason for fleeing marriage by saying, "You did not think you were good enough." Mr. G. (as he's known) informs Dennis that most men feel they're not worthy, but assures him that marriage brings out the best in a man. To help him be a better man, Mr. G. agrees to join Gordon as one of Dennis' coaches. Mr. G. also gives Dennis a nice pair of running shoes.
Dennis realizes that Libby is unlikely to leave Whit for him, even if he finishes the race, but tells her that he'd "settle for her respect" as a suitable outcome. He also apologizes for leaving her, saying, "I did a stupid, stupid thing."
Separate scenes picture Whit's and Gordon's bare rears. The first is an awkward locker-room encounter in which Whit removes his towel in front of Dennis to intimidate him. (We see his naked torso, but a strategic camera angle avoids frontal nudity.) Dennis exits his shower one day to find Mr. G.'s voluptuous daughter, Maya, waiting to confront him regarding back rent. She whips his towel off and takes a Polaroid of his naked front (we see only his bare upper back) to blackmail him.
Dennis makes an appearance in his underwear as well. And his running shorts are ridiculously tight. When he gets a rash, he scratches his groin furiously against a female mannequin's hand at work. (He's a security guard at a women's clothing store.) Another sexually oriented scene played for laughs comes when Dennis chases down a male cross-dresser and pulls lingerie he's stolen out from under the man's dress. (Witnesses see Dennis apparently groping someone who appears at a distance to be female.) Women wear bikinis and tops with plunging necklines.
While Gordon is clearly interested in women, the movie (with a wink) hints at his effeminate side. Among other things, a near accident in a cab ends with Gordon's hand on Dennis' backside. A rather creepy scene finds a shirtless Mr. G. giving Dennis (who's wearing just a towel) a shoulder massage.
Libby got pregnant before her planned marriage to Dennis. And it's clear she's having sex with Whit. (He jokes about her "stamina.") There are several kissing scenes. References are made to breasts, body fluids, K-Y Jelly, erectile dysfunction and "humping."
After a spinning class, Dennis' rubbery legs cause him to plunge down a flight of stairs and crash into a woman at the bottom. Dennis tries to give up before the race starts and ends up getting into a fight with Gordon. They slap, hit and throw whatever they can find in an alley at each other, including a garbage can and lid. They also trade kicks to the groin.
[Spoiler Warning] Whit trips Dennis in the race; both men fall and skin their knees badly. Television reporters indicate that Dennis continues to run—or mostly limp—with a broken ankle for the majority of the marathon.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dennis smokes regularly (though he does try to curtail his usage as he trains). Gordon also lights up. An overflowing ashtray and beer bottles litter Dennis' nightstand. After a particularly discouraging turn of events with Libby, Dennis is seen drunk, stumbling as he walks. Then we see him drink and smoke some more as he looks through an old scrapbook. Three or four scenes picture Gordon and a group of friends downing various alcoholic beverages and smoking while gambling. People drink at Libby's birthday bash and at other events.
Other Negative Elements
Dennis is chronically inattentive to important details. He shows up an hour late to pick up Jake. He lies to Libby about having purchased movie tickets ahead of time, then gets arrested when he tries to buy tickets from someone he thinks is a scalper but who's actually an undercover police officer. He's behind on his rent, and he almost never remembers his keys. Thus, while Dennis loves Jake, in many ways he isn't a good role model. He and Jake hide in a tree, mocking joggers, throwing things at them and faking bodily noises to startle them. One of Dennis' terms of endearment for Jake is "Snotface." (Dennis doesn't intend the nickname as a putdown, nor does Jake hear it that way.)
Whit's obnoxious personality becomes especially evident on a day Dennis and Jake are playing with a remote control boat on a pond. Whit shows up with a massive galleon—complete with working cannons—that fires on Dennis' humble craft. (Dennis dubs him a jerk.) During the marathon, Whit mocks Dennis, voicing the movie's title, "Run, fat boy, run."
Gordon makes a bet with his friends that Dennis will finish the race; when it looks as if Dennis has quit, they threaten to get violent to make him pay up. Mr. G., Gordon and Dennis invent a fake charity and a fictitious medical problem in their initial attempt to get Dennis into the race.
Blister puss makes a rather significant appearance in one scene.
Friends star David Schwimmer's first directorial effort is, oddly enough, a quirky, sentimental, British, About a Boy-ish movie revolving around a grown man trying to "grow up" by signing up for a task he has no business attempting. Lots of laughs and some genuinely sweet moments ensue, especially between Dennis and Jake (and, to a lesser extent, Dennis and Libby). In the end, Dennis demonstrates that he's begun to learn some significant lessons about not running from the things that scare him.
Whatever sweetness there is to be found here, however, gets well and truly drenched by a steady rain of sexual jokes, images and innuendo. Scenes feature "scrotal zones," bare bottoms, the problem of erectile dysfunction, a cross-dressing lingerie thief and wink-wink allusions to Gordon's ambiguous sexual predilections—not to mention a father's decidedly mixed influence on his impressionable son. Thus, they ironically embrace the same problem Dennis has: a stubborn resistance to the idea of growing up and taking responsibility.