ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Competition figures in two new movies in very different ways. "21" is about college students trying to beat the odds in Las Vegas, and "Run Fatboy Run", is about a man trying to beat a romantic rival in a marathon.
Bob Mondello says that this being Hollywood, everybody wins — except maybe the audience.
BOB MONDELLO: "21" is about a boyishly brilliant math student who's invited to join some other collegiate brainiacs in an extracurricular activity. It involves the world's most popular card game, blackjack.
(Soundbite of movie "21")
Unidentified Woman: (As character) It's a game of memory, cards drawn are the past, ones to come are the future.
Unidentified Man #1: (As character) And the best part - it's beatable.
Unidentified Man #2: Are you talking about counting cards?
Unidentified Man #1: No, I'm talking about getting very, very rich.
MONDELLO: Actually, they are talking about counting cards and for the next 90 minutes or so, that's what they're going to do. Accompanied by much snapping of aces on green felt and urgent electronic swooshes. Unfortunately, using a system that's basically impenetrable.
(Soundbite of movie "21")
MONDELLO: Now, I don't know, maybe this is thrilling, and I'm just not getting it. Certainly, there's an attractive young cast and card counting being frowned upon by casinos, there are disguises involved, not to mention, Lawrence Fishburn and Kevin Spacey's snarling a lot which lends a bit of tension.
Because the director knows there's a limit to how exciting he can make the sight of cards being turned over, most of the film is taken up with explaining what's happening, or is going to happen, or has just happened. Which may be enough to keep audiences from heading for the nearest slot machine, but at best, "21" is a sort of collegiate "Ocean's 16" - with dimmer stars and less oomph.
"Run Fatboy Run," on the other hand, feels like a souped-up sitcom — which makes a certain amount of sense, as it's directed by former "Friends" actor David Schwimmer. The premise is that an out-of-shape, London security guard decides the way to win back the affections of a bride he once left standing pregnant at the altar is to run a marathon against her rich new marathon-running American boyfriend. Simon Pegg is the runaway groom; Hank Azaria, the rich new runner.
(Soundbite of "Run Fatboy Run")
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Libby tells me that you decided to run the marathon?
Mr. SIMON PEGG (Actor): (As Dennis) Yeah.
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) That's great, man. Seriously, you ever run a marathon before?
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) No. Why?
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) It's pretty grueling.
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) Well, yeah, that's why they call it a marathon.
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Actually, technically, it's called a marathon because of the events in 490 B.C., there was a Greek soldier named…
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) Can I just stop you there?
Unidentified Man #3: Yeah?
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) I've got nothing to say, I just wanted to stop you there.
MONDELLO: Simon Pegg is an appealing leading man and he's been given a couple of sitcom-worthy sidekicks to help him through a training regimen that leads, inevitably perhaps, to much ado about blisters.
(Soundbite of movie "Run Fatboy Run")
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) You. You're gonna have to pop it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #4: (As character) No. No way, I've never popped a man's pustule.
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) Well, I'll do it then. Give me the needle.
Unidentified Man #4: (As Character) It's fine, I sterilized it.
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) In what?
Unidentified Man #4: (As character) It's sterilized.
Unidentified Man #5: (As character) Prick it in.
Unidentified Man #6: (As character) Pop it.
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) I can't.
Unidentified Man #6: (As character) Why not?
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) It's scary.
Unidentified Man #6: (As character) Give it to me. Just do it slow.
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) Do it gently, okay?
Unidentified Man #6: (As character) Yeah, after three.
Unidentified Man #4: (As character) Up to three, okay?
Mr. PEGG: (As Dennis) Okay.
Unidentified Man #4: (As character) One…
(Soundbite of yelling)
MONDELLO: Like I said, sitcom wri large. "Run Fatboy Run" trots amiably past its plot points and also past its graceful leading lady, Thandie Newton, who never breaks a sweat to an overlong, overblown marathon finale with an over-prominent Nike plug. Schwimmer's direction is pedestrian — but then it's not his fault that the material is kind of lame.
I'm Bob Mondello.
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