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Fat Buddies
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by Jay Seaver

"Not so bad as it sounds, but it's awful close."
2 stars

I'm not going to lie - I was expecting something mind-bogglingly awful out of "Fat Buddies", a Chinese spy spoof whose two main characters are played by guys wearing fat suits, and to find it just kind of tacky but with enough good jokes to not feel like a complete waste of time is kind of disappointing - one kind of wants to see it proved that a bad idea leads to bad results. Sure, it's also something of a relief, in that getting some laughs for the price of a ticket is better than none, but the movie as a whole still seems like a bad idea.

It opens with Hao (Bao Bai-er), a 145 kg security guard who works as a security guard in a Tokyo hospital, the butt of jokes from his co-workers and disdain from the hospital's dean (Yasuaki Kurata). He's been big all his life, but he's just met someone fatter: A patient calling himself "J" (Wen Zhang), 150 kg, prone to narcolepsy, who claims to be a secret agent. Hao helps him sneak out of the hospital and tries to help him on his mission to investigate philanthropist Mai (Guo Jingfei) who is secretly also a drug dealer, despite J not feeling like he needs any assistance at all.

Stars Bao Bai-er and Wen Zhang are not 300 pounds each in reality, so there in fat suits and prosthetic makeup of varying quality (there are some scenes where it actually looks like there's been some weird CGI done to Bao's face to smooth it out), and I'm curious how awareness of that plays into how one views the movie. Both are fairly big stars in China, which means that every scene they're in is implicitly playing "look at these good looking guys - only fat!" as a joke, at best self-deprecating but at worst little more than cruel. One wonders how this movie would play if actors who didn't have to be padded out were cast - would there be pushback against some of the cheaper jokes, or at the least less whiplash between "fatties huffing and puffing" and "fatties doing something impossible athletic" bits? Maybe not, but there are scenes that suggest a story about a guy who has made some amount of peace with his size helping out a guy who still thinks of himself as thin, and there's more potential in that than just laughing at how ridiculous these guys look in fat suits.

There's just enough of that still visible that someone not terribly familiar with Bao and Wen as celebrities may just treat it as a movie starring two big guys (one flashback aside), and while it's not really a good movie by those standards - the film lurches from joke to joke and will often let a bad one run for well past the point where it's funny - the two of them are good enough to sell a lot more than you might expect. J is a jerk, but he's a funny jerk, puffed up with a high opinion of himself even when it directly contradicts the stupid thing he just did, and Wen Zhang is in fact very good at that sort of "I meant to do this" posturing. Both he and Bao Bei-er are capable as far as the slapstick is concerned, and Bao is both able to capture Hao's feeling of being an outcast with his bursts of confidence and capability.

The villains have even less depth, but they're more consistently fun. Guo Jingfei is kind of generic as Mai, but he's got an excellent group of henchmen. Jackie Li and Xu Juncong are each something of a delight, Li wonderfully dry and Xu increasingly frantic, seldom playing off each other but great for switching up what the movie is doing Zeng Yijun and Zhang Menglu get less to work with - Zeng is one well-worn visual joke through most of the movie and Zhang mostly stands around looking pretty until the action finale, but they both move really well, with Zeng especially showing you can ge a lot of physical comedy done without stumbling. It's simple but fun spy silliness, and it's too bad that the enthusiastic Clara Lee doesn't get a similar amount of comedic material as Hao's surprisingly sexy wife, or Yasuaki Kurata as their pushy boss.

It's maddening, really, to see how many people in this movie clearly want to make the audience laugh and have the talent to do so, but are stuck in a movie which doesn't have nearly enough good bits to make up for how misguided it is on a fundamental level. Like many recent Chinese comedies, it may play better for its local audience, but it's worth noting that pop culture jokes that usually fly by American viewers unnoticed land with a thud here, a mess all around.

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originally posted: 10/02/18 14:01:58
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Directed by
  Bai-er Bao

Written by

  Zhang Wen
  Bai-er Bao
  Jingfei Guo
  Clara Lee
  Jackie Li

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