The Foot Fist Way
Making a belated theatrical bow after playing at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, this laugh-filled feature debut for writer/director Jody Hill is cheerfully vulgar and could be a summer sleeper. Cult possibilities are strong, too.
The tenets of the martial arts as they apply to Fred Simmons (co-writer Danny McBride)--a self-absorbed, self-deluded strip-mall Tae Kwon Do instructor--are explored in this appealing indie farce. When Fred's not belittling or berating his students, he's espousing his loony philosophies and demonstrating his own (mediocre) prowess at Tae Kwon Do--utterly convinced that he is the living embodiment of the art. Life throws him a curveball--or gives him a karate chop to the neck, if you will--when he discovers that his bimbo wife Suzie (Mary Jane Bostick) has been playing around. His inner strength shaken to the core, Fred tries to apply the very teachings he espouses to his own mess of a life, succeeding only in making it messier. Nevertheless, as befits come-from-behind stories like this, fate has a way of smiling on the underdog--no matter how stupid he may be.
McBride, soon to be seen in Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express, plays it perfectly straight as the pompous boor, who's not nearly as smart, sexy or savvy as he thinks he is. Instead, he's smug, smarmy, and would be utterly unbearable were it not for the clueless charm that McBride plays him with. It's a splendid comedic performance. Bostick complements McBride perfectly as the bubble-headed, salon-tanned, stereotypical dumb-blonde wife, who just can't seem to keep her hands to herself--and we're not talking about the martial (or even the marital) arts. Ben Best, who also collaborated on the screenplay with McBride and Jody Hill, comes into the game late as Fred's chop-socky idol, the equally smarmy Chuck "The Truck" Wallace, whose own adherence to the contemplative and spiritual nature of the martial arts is as bogus as Fred's. As the most stalwart of Fred's students, Spencer Moreno and Carlos Lopez IV stand out, with director Hill himself rounds out an enthusiastic cast of up-and-comers.
The true success of the film is its confident execution, which belies Hill's first-timer status. The Foot Fist Way is consistently funny not because of the slapstick gags--although those work, too--but in the pitch-perfect realization of characters that, in other hands, might well have been insufferable. Instead, they're amusing and appealing--even more so the worse they behave. The Hollywood landscape is littered with slob comedies that mistake lowbrow idiocy for inventiveness. The Foot Fist Way never makes that mistake, and it moves speedily and entertainingly enough that its slow patches are quickly forgotten and forgiven.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.