Judge Dylan Charles makes good sausage dip.
"Tae Kwon Do is a deadly serious killing system"—Fred Simmons
Fred Simmons (Danny McBride, Pineapple Express) is a Tae Kwon Do instructor in Concord, North Carolina. An insanely egotistical, controlling, crude Tae Kwon Do instructor whose marriage is (surprisingly) on the rocks, Fred tries to find guidance in his hero, the legendary martial artist film star, Chuck "The Truck" Wallace (Ben Best). Wince with Fred as he breaks apart his life like so many wooden boards.
Danny McBride is on his way up in the world, with roles in movies like Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, but he got his start here in my home state of North Carolina as a standup comedian—and in this movie right here.
The Foot Fist Way is one of those comedies that drenches itself in awkward. It wallows and revels in painful, drawn-out moments that cause more winces than laughs. It's this kind of awkward humor that The Office and Extras excel at, but The Foot Fist Way buries whatever jokes it might have beneath these moments. I spent about 75 percent of the time with a grimace on my face, waiting for the next terrible thing to befall Fred.
That's not to say that there aren't funny moments. It's just that every bit of funny is overshadowed by the knowledge that something terrible is just right around the corner. When Fred spends a good minute or so screaming at himself in the mirror, telling himself how worthless he is, the underlying humor is swamped by the fact that you're watching a man being pushed to his breaking point. When Fred is basically castrated verbally by his wife in front of all his students, it's just another sad, pathetic moment for a sad pathetic man who tries desperately to be the epitome of macho, but just comes across as pathetic.
And then there's the fact that we're saddled with a character with few or redeeming qualities. I couldn't even tell if he really was supposed to be a gifted martial artist or if he was just supposed to be a joke in all aspects of his life. The only bright spot about Fred is simply the fact that he's played by McBride.
McBride is perfect for this role and from what I've been hearing on the commentary, he came up with a goodly bunch of Fred's lines on the spot. Most of the cast, while not professional actors, adds the proper color for the whole picture. In fact, most of the actors are really Tae Kwon Do students, some of whom were taught by director Jody Hill. In fact, my favorite character was Fred's assistant Julio (Spencer Moreno), who helped balance out the complete selfish oaf that is Fred Simmons. Julio and another student, Henry (Carlos Lopez), both show that there's potentially another side to Fred, just one we're not seeing on camera. They respect and almost seem to idolize him, where others don't seem to take him seriously.
The movie itself is remarkably well put together, especially considering the fact that it was mostly shot handheld. The roughness adds to the overall feel and gives it that documentary style that's enhanced by the locals who were tapped for all the parts. The soundtrack, provided by Ben Best, who did an amazing job as the washed-up Chuck "The Truck" Wallace, is another perfect fit.
The extras vary wildly in quality. The commentary by McBride, Hill, and production designer Randy Gambill, is funnier than the movie, going off on numerous tangents, like the fact that one of the extras makes really good sausage dip. The deleted scenes have their moments as well, but they made the right choice in leaving them out. The bloopers and alternate ending are okay, but the behind-the-scenes featurette is, well, worthless. It's 25 minutes of jarring footage with a weird gray filter over it. There's no talking, no stories about what happened, or explanations, it's just music over bad footage. Don't even bother clicking on it, and keep in mind that it's not mentioned on the back of the box, a bad sign.
All things considered, if the awkwardness levels had been toned to about a 6 (instead of, say, 8 or 9), The Foot Fist Way would have been a great independent comedy. Instead, it's a painful film that still manages to highlight the talents of both the director and its star.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Danny McBride and Director Jody Hill
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