THE FOOT FIST WAY

R

-By Ethan Alter


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Since it debuted on the festival circuit in 2006, the low-budget comedy The Foot Fist Way has become something of a status symbol among a certain class of Hollywood power player. Every A-list comedy guru from Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller to Will Ferrell and Adam McKay belongs to the movie's fan club and makes a point of recommending it to their colleagues and co-stars. In fact, if you believe the film's ad campaign, Ferrell and McKay alone have seen The Foot Fist Way at least 20 times after they were introduced to it last year. (One can only hope that they devoted an equal amount of energy to their third collaboration, Step Brothers, due out in July.) Thanks to this dynamic duo's support, not to mention their connections at major studios, general audiences will finally get their chance to see the picture that supposedly has all of Hollywood laughing. As is so often the case in these situations, though, the actual product turns out to be far less interesting than the hoopla surrounding it. Had it been released as a series of viral web clips or via bootleg DVD, The Foot Fist Way may have lived up to its status as the cult comedy to see. Unfortunately, a movie this small can't help but get lost on the big screen at your local multiplex.

If nothing else, the theatrical release of The Foot Fist Way does give moviegoers a proper introduction to Danny McBride, the mustachioed Georgia-born comic who popped up seemingly out of nowhere in last year's Hot Rod and The Heartbreak Kid and has scene-stealing turns in two of this summer's highest-profile comedies, Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder. Take Larry the Cable Guy's bluster and beer gut and subtract his casual racism and annoying "Git-R-Done" catchphrase and you've got the basis for McBride's shtick, although he's quicker on the draw than this thumbnail sketch might suggest. In Foot Fist, he plays Tae Kwan Do instructor Fred Simmons, who operates a strip-mall dojo in a small North Carolina town. A self-absorbed buffoon on the level of Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby (who could be a distant cousin), Fred is the kind of guy who gleefully goes through life without an off switch, a blessing—or should that be a curse?—that allows him to say things like "I'm so hungry, I could eat a grown man's ass right now" and not feel any embarrassment.

But beneath all that manly blather beats the heart of an awkward adolescent who desperately wants the love and approval of everyone around him, from his students to his equally selfish, not to mention slutty, spouse Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic). The eternal conflict between man and wife forms the spine of the film's wispy narrative, as Suzie cheats on Frank first with her boss and later with his idol, B-list martial-arts expert and D-list direct-to-video star Chuck "The Truck" Wallace (Ben Best), who he's managed to lure to his dojo to observe his students' next belt testing. Suzie’s dual infidelities take the swag out of Simmons' swagger and test his ability to live up to the same life lessons he drums into the heads of every paying pupil who walks through his door.

Serviceably directed by Jody Hill, who co-wrote the script with McBride and Best and appears in a small role as Frank's friend and fellow Tae Kwan Do enthusiast, The Foot Fist Way is essentially a feature-length audition tape for its three creators. And on that level at least, the movie can be declared a rousing success. In addition to his roles in Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, McBride scored a plum part in the upcoming big-screen version of Land of the Lost (opposite—you guessed it!—Will Ferrell), while Hill is currently shooting the Seth Rogen/Anna Faris comedy Observe and Report and Best recently turned up in Superbad and What Happens in Vegas. The trio also reunited to film a pilot for an HBO series entitled “East Bound and Down,” about a former major league baseball player turned middle-school gym coach. One can't begrudge them their success and here's hoping that they go on to create richer, funnier films than the one that put them on the map. Because even though The Foot Fist Way has some moments of inspired lunacy, its paper-thin premise could barely sustain a half-hour short, let alone an 85-minute feature.

The film also suffers from a distinct misogynistic streak that has marred several entries in the recent wave of "boys’ club" comedies, from Old School to The Heartbreak Kid. It's easy to understand why folks like Ferrell, McKay, Stiller and Apatow were charmed by this low-budget calling card, as it owes a lot to their own work. Whether ordinary moviegoers embrace it with the same amount of affection remains to be seen.



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