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The Foot Fist Way A Minor Blip on the Comedy Radar

The Foot Fist Way
Directed by Jody Hill
Written by Hill, Danny McBride, and Ben Best
Paramount Vantage, 2008

If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought this to be a “lost” Wes Anderson film. Anderson and his usual cohorts (such as Owen Wilson) have made a living exploring delusional characters for comic effect. This film, as many of you may know, was an indie looking for a distributor and had a difficult time finding one until the comedy team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay found it and started trumping it up. This kind of attention leads to the double-edged sword conflict: it gives the film much needed publicity, but it also makes the movie sound greater than it actually is.

Those who have watched a bunch of comedies in the past year are familiar with co-writer and star Danny McBride, who stole critical whipping boys The Heartbreak Kid, Hot Rod, and Drillbit Taylor. McBride plays his comedy straight like few actors do. It’s not just acting serious, it’s a sort of monotone with a Southern drawl and absolutely no indicating gestures. He’s a guy who will always be welcome when he arrives onscreen. This is the movie that got him noticed even before it got its release.

In The Foot Fist Way (which is the literal translation of Tae Kwon Do), McBride plays Fred Simmons, a TKD instructor who of course isn’t all that great at what he does. He’s in a bad marriage with Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic), who will soon start cheating on him at her new job. Simmons half-heartedly mentors his students, and steps over the line at times when his personal life is shaky. And one day he hopes to meet Z-list action star Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (co-writer Best), his hero.

As it would figure, when he finally meets Wallace, he’s not the hero he thought he was. Ultimately, Wallace becomes the man Simmons has to prove himself against and start getting his life on track.

It’s really not much more than that. In the meantime, there are some pretty funny moments but I have no idea how Will Ferrell can say he’s seen this movie 100 times. It’s got to be a marketing ploy, because I can’t see myself watching this over and over. Simmons is the only decent character, not exactly three-dimensional however, and the only one close to him is Wallace, who is decidedly two-dimensional. In annoying cheap-movie fashion, his friend Mike McAllister (writer/director Hill) shows up as an intense, nihilistic martial arts machine and then promptly leaves. Everybody else is just fodder for those characters to play off. And it’s very important in comedy to have a cast of likable people: it makes the jokes pay off better, and it makes their failures and successes mean more.

I realize with a low-budget comedy like this there aren’t the aspirations of giving us everything, it’s meant to be ultra-simplistic with a funny tone throughout. But then again, I’ve been hearing nothing but raves for this little indie so it puts me in a bind. Looking at it for what it is, it succeeds, but what it is isn’t exactly taking off to lofty heights.

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