June 12, 2008

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The Foot Fist Way†(R)
A Tae Kwon Do instructor attempts to keep his integrity and his self-control when his trashy wife leaves him and his life seems to be falling apart in The Foot Fist Way, a scrappy underdog kind of indie comedy.

Danny McBride has had the bitsiest of bit parts in comedies like Hot Rod and Drillbit Taylor but he leads the parade here as Fred Simmons, a Tae Kwon Do instructor in a Carolina suburb who thinks heís many levels cooler than he really is. But his students adore him ó students like the chubby kid Carlos (Juan-Carlos Guzman) or the senior-citizen-aged woman whom you might have seen getting beat up in one of the movieís trailers. Itís only when Fredís wife Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic), who appears to answer the question of what ever happened to the bleach blond girls of the late 1980s metal videos, admits to some rather sleazy infidelity that Fred starts to question his own greatness. One of the few things keeping him together: a chance to meet his idol Chuck ďThe TruckĒ Wallace (Ben Best) and maybe have him over to the dojo.

The engine of The Foot Fist Way is not so much in the overall plot but in the setups that drive each segment: Fredís inappropriate behavior at a dinner party, a shy studentís bullying by an aggressive fellow student, Simmonsí one-time win at some long ago tournament, Fredís creepy friend Mike (Jody Hill) and their trip with two students to a martial arts expo. Every bit of the movie has that Napoleon Dynamite red-state freakiness only with slightly more attention paid to making the characters seem like actual people.

More attention, however, is not necessarily enough attention when it comes to turning character sketches that would work fine in a 10-minute skit into well-rounded people who can hold your attention and at least some part of your sympathy for almost 90 minutes. I feel like Iíve typed this sentence a dozen times in the past 18 months or so but here it goes again: any five-minute chunk of this movie is funny and possibly even hilarious when you see it independently on YouTube. I certainly thought the trailer made the movie look like a discount version of a Will Ferrell comedy, which I think was the point. The movie itself, however, was too much posture, not enough plot. Or, in lieu of plot, it just needed a lot more humor in each scene, one that balanced McBrideís outsized character with reality in a way that wasnít too cruel or too goofy. Too many times I felt that scenes of Fred being both arrogant and clueless were just repeats of some earlier scene that gave us the same thing. He needs either to learn or to determinedly never learn while things change around him. Instead, with neither the scenery nor the characters moving, the film and the comedy just seem to stand still. C

Rated R for strong language and some sexual content. Directed by Jody Hill and written by Ben Best, Jody Hill and Danny R. McBride, The Foot Fist Way is an hour and 27 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Paramount Vantage.