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Foot Fist Way, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Kung Phooey!"
1 stars

Although I am ordinarily loathe to kick off a review with a movie by making a state over the line that “(Insert title of film under discussion) is this year’s (Insert title of recent popular film)!,” I can confidently say that the new comedy “The Foot Fist Way” is this year’s “Napoleon Dynamite” or, to a lesser extent, this year’s “Hot Rod.“ However, before anyone gets the bright idea of slapping that quote on an ad or immediately dropping this review in order to rush out to the first available screening, I should remind you that I hated “Napoleon Dynamite” (and, to a lesser extent, “Hot Rod”) with a blind and uncontrolled passion--despite formidable competition, I still regard it as one of the worst films to emerge in this decade--and many of the things that I despised the most about that film crop up again here., such as a shabby and barely thought-through premise, deeply unlikable and uninteresting characters and a comedic approach that is so overwhelmingly arch and condescending that I found myself sitting there dumbfounded that any sensible person could find any of it even vaguely amusing for a moment. And yet, I know plenty of seemingly sensible people who found “Napoleon Dynamite” (and, to a lesser extent, “Hot Rod”) to be hilarious and I have read reviews from seemingly sensible critics who have found this one to be equally amusing, which would indicate either that they are all on some wavelength that I am as yet not privy to or that I need to recalibrate my conception of the word “sensible.”

The film stars Danny McBride--who is being touted in some quarters as the next big thing in movie comedy, presumably by people who somehow managed to miss every screening of this particular film--as Fred Simmons, a small-town Tae Kwon Do instructor with, you guessed it, a bizarrely inflated sense of his talent and self-worth. Despite demonstrating no particular aptitude or knowledge in the field of martial arts, he proclaims himself “King of the Demo” but it quickly becomes obvious that even the pieces of wood that he struggles to break in order to impress small and passionately disinterested crowds in the parking lot outside his shabby strip-mall dojo easily outmatch him in both intellect and physical skills. And yet, despite never demonstrating the core competence that would be required to watch a Tae Kwon Do competition, let alone participate in one, Fred’s students--a collection of misfits including his nine-year-old apprentice Julio (Spencer Moreno) and gawky teen Henry (Carlos Lopez)--all seem to buy into the seemingly ridiculous notion that he is an inspiring teacher and mentor. The only one who doesn’t seem to fall into this trap is Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic), a blonde bombshell who is convinced that he is an idiot and looks upon him with barely disguised condescension. This might lead you to assume that Suzie is the town intellectual but no, she is Fred’s wife, for reasons that, like so many other aspects of this film, defies any rational explanation.

Alas, it seems that Suzie is no longer interested in being Queen of the Demo and when Fred discovers that she is cheating on him with her new boss, she walks out on him and sends him into what might have been called a downward spiral of shame and failure if it weren’t for the fact the fact that he doesn’t exactly have far to fall. Unexpectedly, salvation arrives when he, along with Julio, Henry and best pal Mike (Jody Hill, who also directed and co-wrote the film), sets off to a martial arts convention in order to meet his hero, a low-level martial arts movie star--imagine a lesser Jeff Speakman, if such a thing is possible--by the name of Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (Ben Best, another co-writer). Although even the lowliest C-grade star making a personal appearance ordinarily has people around to keep guys like Fred as far away from him as possible , Chuck inexplicably takes a shine to the dope and agrees to perform a demonstration at his upcoming belt-testing exhibition. For a while, Fred is riding high and even Suzie decides to come back to him but after a shocking and unexpected turn of events--sorry, I meant to say “a lame and completely predictable turn of events”--he finds himself going up against his mentor in order to finally prove whether or not he is actually as good as he thinks he is.

The idea of basing a comedy around the ups and downs of a goofball who has convinced himself that he is the top dog of an odd and arcane subculture is nothing new--Will Ferrell has more or less carved a film career for himself over the last few years doing just that--but I can’t recall one in recent memory as strangely off-putting as “The Foot Fist Way.” The joke, I guess, is the utter disconnect between Fred’s delusions of grandeur and his actual capabilities (or lack thereof) but in this case, the joke is being told by people who, based on the available evidence, don’t seem to think that it is very funny. I understand that we are supposed to laugh at Fred’s hapless ineptitude and his inability to recognize said ineptitude but the film never finds anything funny to say about the subject and goes about it in such a distant and removed manner that it almost seems to be actually daring people in the audience to actually laugh at the utterly arid shenanigans. It quickly becomes obvious that Fred is nowhere near as good or smart as he thinks he is but instead of letting us discover his inadequacies in small and subtle increments, the screenplay has him do one blatantly idiotic thing after another--ranging from setting up pathetically mismatched intramural match-ups in his classroom (ha ha, the little old lady just got knocked unconscious) to loudly announcing at a dinner party “Oh shit--I forgot to say grace!”--and we are supposed to simply laugh at his stupidity instead of wonder why they other people in the scene don’t seem to recognize it as well. Then, after hitting us over the head with his dopiness for the vast majority of the running time, the filmmakers try to have it both ways by insinuating towards the end that he may actually have some competence after all in scenes that ring as false and hollow even by the standards of a comedic screenplay that has, up to that point, been to sloppy and unfocused to even be dismissed as “ramshackle.” Granted, I wasn’t exactly a fan of “The Foot Fist Way” by the time that it arrived at its final reels but the conclusion to this film is particularly enraging in the way that it undercuts everything in order to achieve a rah-rah finale that it simply hasn’t earned.

An even bigger flaw than the film’s problematic approach, or lack thereof, is the inescapable fact that the character of Fred is perhaps the least amusing individual to find himself at the focus of any non-Rob Schneider comedy since Napoleon Dynamite. Fred is self-involved, self-absorbed, always able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and pathetically clueless as to how badly he is coming off to practically everyone else around him--in short, he is a schmuck. This is not to say that a character possessing these qualities cannot inherently be funny--Albert Brooks has made a career out of playing people like this and both Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell have played similar types to perfection in their respective versions of “The Office.” In those cases, however, those character were written and performed not as drooling idiots but as reasonably intelligent and likable people who nevertheless lack that crucial missing circuit that would allow them to see just how bad they are coming off in order to make the necessary adjustments--they know how to play the instrument but are so eager to show off their expertise in order to impress people that they can’t help but inadvertently hit all the wrong notes. Even some of the doofuses (doufi?) played by Will Ferrell have engendered a certain amount of sympathy--Ron Burgundy may have been an idiot but he generally wasn’t hurting anyone but himself and he was at least reasonably good at what he did for a living. The problem here is that the film is so intent on making sure that we recognize that Fred is a clueless dope and a boor that it only serves to once again prove be default that it is almost always funnier to see a smart person trying and failing to achieve something as the result of his own mistakes than to watch a dumb person screwing up from the get-go because he is a moron through and through. Compounding the problem is the fact that McBride doesn’t bring anything to the table to make him the least bit interesting or amusing--he just comes across as a blowhard jackass who pretty much gets everything he deserves until the finale, where he winds up getting the kind of redemption that he simply doesn’t deserve.

“The Foot Fist Way” is badly paced (even at a relatively slight 85 minutes, it seems to go one forever and some of the sequences drag so badly that you want to scream “uncle” in the hopes that it will finally relent and get to the crashingly obvious punch line), stridently performed and deeply, deeply unfunny. It not only doesn’t work as a comedy, it feels at times as if it were made by people who had heard rumors of such a thing but who had never experienced one for themselves. Of course, with my luck, it will wind up striking the same chord as “Napoleon Dynamite” did a few summers ago and become a significant cult hit that inspires its own string of inferior knock-offs. There are few things that I can think of that are more depressing than “The Foot Fist Way” but the notion of kicking off a review in a couple of years with the phrase “(Insert title of film under discussion) is this year’s ‘The Foot Fist Way’” is almost too grim to contemplate.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13567&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/06/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/07/08 John Patricio Great fil, very funny 3 stars
6/07/08 Boop Really freakin' good. 4 stars
11/02/06 George Moacanin Brilliantly Funny 5 stars
2/12/06 Barry T hilarious! - see it now! 5 stars
2/04/06 Ron Drake Jr. AWESOME 5 stars
1/27/06 stimey007 My stomach still hurts from laughing so hard...ridiculous fun 5 stars
1/27/06 tle freakin' awesome 5 stars
1/23/06 paul hill well done, extremely funny in different way 5 stars
1/19/06 Fred Vegas Hilarious, good old inappropriate laughs. 5 stars
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  30-May-2008 (R)
  DVD: 23-Sep-2008


  DVD: 23-Sep-2008

Directed by
  Jody Hill

Written by
  Jody Hill
  Danny McBride
  Ben Best

  Danny McBride
  Mary Jane Bostic
  Ben Best
  Spencer Moreno
  Carlos Lopez IV
  Jody Hill

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