Danny R. McBride in The Foot Fist Way
The self-proclaimed “King of the Demo,” Fred Simmons teaches Taekwondo to little kids, old ladies and awkward teens at a second rate strip mall dojo in Concord, North Carolina. That he isn’t very good at what he does is irrelevant because there isn’t anyone around who seems to know the difference.
He’s a bully and a pig, using his position of power over those around him to either put people down or hit on them. His idea of a good time is taking his tacky wife to 2 for 1 crab night at the local chain seafood restaurant. As you laugh uncomfortably at some of the hugely inappropriate things he says and does, you wonder if he realizes he’s a fraud or if he genuinely buys into his own delusions of superiority.
Odd then that Fred would be the hero of a martial arts comedy, but not so odd when you consider he shares a kinship with David Brent, Ricky Gervais’ character from the The Office (BBC version). Like Brent or even Larry David, Fred makes you squirm as much as laugh.
Though definitely not for all tastes, those who like this kind of rude, rough around the edges comedy, will enjoy watching Fred’s paper kingdom come crashing down when he discovers his wife is cheating on him. It’s at this point that his casual disregard for at least three of the five tenets of the Taekwondo he teaches – Courtesy, Integrity and Self Control – turns to blatant neglect and it’s only the other two – Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit – that keep him moving forward. It’s also because of these last two that you just might find yourself rooting for Fred despite your better nature.
In an ordinary Hollywood comedy, this would be the story of Fred’s comeuppance or his redemption, but this isn’t an ordinary Hollywood comedy. The Foot Fist Way was made at a reported cost of $70,000 by writer/director Jody Hill and fellow North Carolina School of the Arts chums Danny R. McBride who plays Simmons and Ben Best who plays Simmons’ idol, low rent Hollywood martial arts star Chuck “The Truck” Wallace. Shot over the course of 19 days, this is not slick Hollywood product and it’s all the better for it. It has a raucous energy missing from the big studio high-concept comedies that have been test marketed to within an inch of their lives. It’s a breath of fresh air that turns sports movie clichés on their head.
Though all the heroes are heels, somehow relative newcomer McBride makes the whole thing work. Prior to this film, his only on camera performance was in All the Real Girls directed David Gordon Green, another friend and art school alum. Since Foot Fist premiered at Sundance in 2006 however, the film has been making the Hollywood rounds and McBride’s comic turn has been noticed by some important people. He’ll be appearing later this summer in the Seth Rogen penned stoner action comedy Pineapple Express (also directed by Green) and the Ben Stiller comedy Tropic Thunder.
This isn’t a perfect movie and there are stretches that produce more chuckles than laughs, but there is a lot to like here, particularly for those who don’t mind ragtag, low budget production values. Though it will never get the attention or the box office of McBride’s more high profile comedies, it could find an enthusiastic cult audience and will definitely deliver more bang for its budgetary buck.
The Foot Fist Way. USA 2006 (released in 2008). Directed by Jody Hill. Written by and starring Jody Hill, Danny R. McBride and Ben Best. 1 hour 27 minutes. MPAA rated R for strong language and some sexual content. 3 stars (out of 5).
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