It’s so easy to pick on A Fantastic Fear of Everything there’s basically no fun in it. The only thing worse than co-director Crispian Mills’s script is his and Chris Hopewell’s direction. For the first half of the movie, when Simon Pegg’s basically all by himself making a mocking impression of someone with paranoia, the direction is shockingly inept. It gets a little better in the second half once Pegg leaves his flat and ventures into the world.
The “story” is simple. Pegg is a successful children’s book author who wants to be a legit historical true crime playwright because the world needs garbage. Filled with Victorian-era classist ideas about what does and does not make a murderer, which will fit with the film’s general xenophobia and obsessive punching down, Pegg becomes terrified the world is full of murderers. Including some who live in his flat with him.
The paranoia thing is all a bit to fill runtime. Fear is an excruciating hundred minutes, and once Pegg’s out in the world, the paranoia thing pretty much doesn’t matter. Then he’s just a guy with crushing social anxieties the film mocks. But it’s all going to be okay because Pegg is a white guy who loves gangsta rap, so he’s obviously going to fail upwards. If he can survive the killers after him. And the Vietnamese gangs. Lots of Fear is about being afraid of Vietnamese people, which makes it okay to be low-key racist since they bring down property values after all.
The third act’s a little better than the rest of the film; Pegg’s not acting off himself or his terrible narration, and there are finally other actors. Unfortunately, in the first act, it’s just agent Clare Higgins, who’s xenophobic and maybe homophobic—I actually blocked it out—and she ignores him, so he’s basically just riffing on the entitled white guy author bit with a disinterested successful female agent. Fear’s only got tropes. Tropes, an embarrassing performance from Pegg, lousy writing and direction, and bad editing. Not a great combination.
But the third act’s got Amara Karan, who’s more professional than anyone else in the film, and she brings it up (as much as possible). There’s only so much anyone could do.
Silly, bad cameo from Paul Freeman as Pegg’s obnoxious therapist.
There are no redeeming qualities to the film, though there are more competent moments than others. There’s an impromptu stop motion sequence, and it’s effective enough. It’s not great, but it’s not incompetently produced. So much of Fear is just blisteringly inept; whether Pegg’s acting or Mills and Hopewell’s direction, competence goes a long way. Even middling competence.
There are a few laughs in the movie; there ought to be more given most of its slapstick. You feel bad about all the laughs, of course, because they’re funny but bad. As opposed to desperately unfunny and bad, which is ninety-eight percent of Fear. Mills, Hopewell, and Pegg only impress in what a crappy movie they make together.