Movie Reviews

Half Ass Movie Review: The Foot Fist Way (Aug 12)

Earlier this year, Fred Simmons appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Billing himself as “King of the Demo”, this Tae Kwan Do instructor endured an awkward interview with Conan, punctuated by occasional pleas to “cut” and “start over”. He also managed to snap at fellow guest Will Ferrell. Then, he and his students performed a Tae Kwan Do demonstration, complete with inspirational rock playing on a boom box.

After some awkward posing and berating his students, Simmons completely failed to shatter a stack of cement blocks, and once again demanded to start over. He threw a fit and walked off stage. Conan coaxed him back out for the tag, where he once again insulted Ferrell. Approximate number of times I’ve watched this segment: One hundred.

Only later did I realize that Fred Simmons was actually actor Danny McBride, and that he was doing an interview segment in-character. This, for the record, does not make the bit any less funny. He was actually promoting his indie comedy The Foot Fist Way. This, for the record, might be the best movie title of all time.

Shot in 2006 with no budget and no stars, Foot Fist came to the attention of Will Ferrell last year, and he helped it get a theatrical run. (Coming to a theater near you soon, or perhaps six months ago. Such are the ways of indie comedies.) Already McBride has found his way into the Judd Apatow collective, with upcoming roles in this summer’s Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, and he’s one of the leads in Ferrell’s Land of the Lost update.

While The Foot Fist Way is rough around the edges and shows a certain sloppiness, it’s also really funny. It’s a cross between the Ferrell style of dumb guys getting hurt and the slow-burning awkwardness of The Office. The results are uneven, but frequently hilarious.

The plot, essentially, is Fred trying to deal with his wife’s infidelity. And he mostly deals with it through Tae Kwon Do. Oh, and self-loathing. There’s also a trip to an Martial Arts Expo held at a Hilton Hotel in Mobile, Alabama, a pitched battle with a major movie star, and an old woman getting punched in the face. Hard.

Shot in a grainy faux-documentary style, it alternates between long scenes of discomfort, including Fred’s interviews with prospective students (he shows them a video of the teacher who trained him), and martial-arts training. It’s a strange mix that’s effective more often than not. The performers are just physical enough to be believable as Tae Kwan Do students, which helps build the reality.

Fred Simmons has a lot in common with Will Ferrell’s characters. His entire self-image is tied up in the assumed masculinity of his chosen profession. But unlike Ron Burgundy and the rest, Fred’s a nobody who barely gets by. Sort of like Ferrell’s characters would be in real life, actually. That doesn’t stop Fred from presiding over his dojo with that same Ricky Bobby-style swagger. “Your weakness is disgusting to me,” he tells a child, and if that line doesn’t end up on a t-shirt, something is wrong with the world we live in.

As much as the plot meanders in the first half, it picks up late in the game with the aforementioned trip to the Expo where Fred meets his hero, Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (played by co-writer Ben Best). Fred, his creepy friend Mike McAlister (played by director Jody Hill), and a couple of their students end up at a party in Chuck’s hotel room, where Fred ends up drinking from a half-empty plastic cup of beer he found in the bathroom. (“It’s still good, though.”) This turns into a fight, which wins Chuck’s grudging respect and a kind offer to visit Fred’s dojo for ten thousand dollars.

For reasons you’ll see coming from a mile away and yet still dread, Fred and Chuck end up beating on one another. In a movie that’s all about channeling frustration into socially acceptable displays of fake violence, this particularly fight is surprisingly brutal and authentic. It’s a lot more upsetting than you’d see in major releases, with their special effects and stuntmen.

The Foot Fist Way is clearly a labor of love, but it could have used an experienced hand or two in the production. Some of the supporting characters needed more development – there are a couple of subplots that build throughout the movie but we don’t get enough information about the characters involved to know why these things are happening. And some scenes are clearly padded to bring it up to (barely) feature length. I realize that it’s a movie about a Tae Kwan Do instructor, but well, the Tae Kwan Do scenes run a little long. They’re well shot, and the director puts together a good montage, but board-breaking isn’t funny in and of itself. On the other hand, the scene of Fred asking out one of his students runs really long and is hilarious all the way through. Fred’s interaction here is Michael Scott-like in its ineptitude, and it’s glorious. “We can really skip through all the rigmarole of me asking you. I’ve got your phone number and address on your application.”

At its best, it’s absolutely hilarious. Every single one of the jokes lands with precision, and the characters who get the space to develop are brilliant. It’s the stretches without jokes that drag, though. Still, those are mostly the result of first-time filmmaker enthusiasm. They have the resources to pull off training scenes, and so they do. (After all, I once participated in a short-film project where we spent seven hours moving a TV around a room because we thought stop-motion animation of a sentient television would be hilarious. I have no room to judge.) It’s well worth seeing, and there’s some real talent at work here. Since this was shot, the creative team developed a comedy pilot for HBO, so I suspect we’ll see some more professional work from them in the very near future. And even with the amateur production values and complete lack of stars, it’s more enjoyable than 95% of mainstream comedies from the last five years. Let’s face it, Robin Williams has never said anything as funny as “Meditation is terrific and all, but I’ve never heard of it saving anybody in a gang rape-type situation.”

Three and a half beans

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