Dir: Jody Hill. US. 2008. 87 mins.
Ascendant US funnyman Danny McBride stars in this comedy about a small-town martial arts instructor - an amiable but meandering tale that wears out both its threadbare premise and welcome long before the end of its running time. The Foot Fist Way (the title is a literal translation of tae kwon do) was shot on a microbudget in three weeks as a self-financed feature, premiered at Sundance in 2006, and was re-edited with new material after Will Ferrell's production company finally picked the film up for distribution via Paramount Vantage.
In much the same manner as Napoleon Dynamite (2004), The Foot Fist Way is positioning itself as an under-the-radar counter-programming alternative to clamorous summer genre product. Ferrell's name on the poster, alongside a concerted viral marketing effort aimed at teens and college students, may entice comedy fans looking for the next 'hip thing'.' But middling word-of-mouth and McBride's relatively low profile probably won't be enough to push domestic returns into eight figures. US ancillary marketplace value should be better as McBride's star continues to rise; it's certainly hard, though, to see international audiences taking much interest in this.
Set in small town North Carolina, Foot Fist centres around tae kwon do instructor Fred Simmons (McBride), who owns and operates a strip mall martial arts business, and lectures his students, adults and kids alike, about focus, self-control and perseverance. Fred's wife Susan (Bostic) doesn't respect what he does, however, and starts to cheat on him. Things get worse when Fred eventually meets his idol, competition champion turned preening movie star Chuck 'The Truck' Wallace (Best), and finds his hero is not all he's imagined.
Somewhat interestingly, and to its credit, The Foot Fist Way doesn't diminish Fred or portray him as a loser for his occupation (except for Susan, who's meant to be a shrewish and distasteful figure). The script, though, co-written by McBride, Best and actor-director Jody Hill, never locates a convincing, persuasively amusing tone.
It isn't rooted in its characters, and none of the supporting players have the arcs or depth of quirk that comprised Napoleon Dynamite's amusing background tapestry. Whereas that film, another zonked comedy about a strange, headstrong character, located something approaching universality in its portrayal of seething nerd petulance, The Foot Fist Way never particularly seems anchored to anything other than its makers' passing fancies. It floats, and flits by. It happens. And then it's over.
McBride, who seems to specialise in blustery blowhards, brings plenty of his wry, burly charisma to the part - even if it's a case of simply acquitting himself from scene to scene rather than creating a lastingly memorable character. Watching the movie, even when it's not working, one doesn't tire of McBride.
Technical credits are average, with the film's budget reflected in spare production design and a fairly limited number of set-ups. The exception comes in the form of plenty of slow-motion, board-breaking footage, sure to send some audience members scurrying home to their copy of The Karate Kid.
The performances of mostly non-professional actors as Fred's students, meanwhile, lends the movie a nice sheen of realism with respect to its setting.
Garry Sanchez Productions
Ben Best, Jody Hill & Danny McBride
Director of photography
The Dynamite Brothers
Johnna Lynn Gross
Mary Jane Bostic
Carlos Lopez IV