Comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite are likely to follow The Foot Fist Way, an eccentric low-fi comedy (shot in 19 days in North Carolina) about a Tae Kwon Do instructor whose weirdo doofiness is written all over his smirking face. Yet whereas Jared Hess created misfits to mock, first-time director Jody Hill steers clear of condescension or cruel laughs at his protagonist’s expense, his debut’s vein of bizarre awkwardness instead laced with bemused empathy. Sporting a close buzz cut, a drug dealer moustache, and a paunch, Mr. Simmons (a fantastic Danny McBride) is a master at martial arts but a failure at just about everything else, whether it is his marriage to his adulterous wife (Mary Jane Bostic) or interaction with his unreasonably devoted students, whom he regularly belittles and, when life’s problems overwhelm him, is prone to smacking senseless during sparring bouts. As embodied by McBride, however, this supremely clueless buffoon remains just shy of a cartoon, his anger, and frustration kept just prickly enough to make his more idiotic behavior—such as gawky, useless attempts to hit on a pretty young student—seem less silly and lighthearted than uncomfortable and mildly unpleasant. Simmons commands the center of a largely plotless film, which involves him conducting semi-professional classes, brooding over his adulterous spouse, and trying to meet—and then beat the snot out of—Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (Ben Best), a lame Chuck Norris celeb whom Simmons tracks down at a pitiful Tae Kwon Do convention. This lack of a proper narrative backbone never interferes with the strange atmosphere tapped into by Hill, McBride, and Best (all credited as screenwriters), a discomforting blend of small-town social retardation, outdated ‘80s cool-guy posturing, and misguided arrogance that’s maintained with such clarity and consistency that it helps compensate for the eventual steep drop in laughs. Though liable to let a grown man uppercut an elderly classmate into oblivion or scare his wife by jumping out from behind a counter with a butcher knife, Mr. Simmons, by scattershot story’s end, earns his peers’, and our, respect. By staying doggedly true to its idiosyncratic off-kilter vibe, so too does The Foot Fist Way.
- Paramount Vantage
- 87 min
- Jody Hill
- Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Ben Best
- Danny McBride, Ben Best, Mary Jane Bostic, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez IV, Jody Hill
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