By Stephanie Zacharek
By Simon Abrams
By Michelle Orange
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Nick Schager
By Amy Nicholson
By The Invisible Woman
By I Used to Be Darker
The Foot Fist Way has been trying to break into theaters since clawing its way down film-fest row, beginning at Sundance in '06. It took Will Ferrell and his comedy life partner, Adam McKay, to get distributors interested. Notes the trailer: The men behind Anchorman and Talladega Nights "watched it at least twenty times," suggesting grown men with far too much free time on their soft, manicured hands.
Nonetheless, it's easy to see why Ferrell and McKay, who skew darker and dirtier on their Funny or Die website, were attracted to first-timer Jody Hill's film about delusional, sad-sack tae kwon do instructor Fred Simmons, who's more or less Ron Burgundy in a white robe and black belt, Ricky Bobby with a porno mustache and a gaggle of tweenager acolytes, or any other Ferrell sports-movie dumbass injected with a few extra brain cells (that eventually go to waste anyway). Played by Danny McBride, Fred is a strip-mall hero for whom showing off his cinderblock-breaking skills to parking-lot gawkers is "my fucking life."
The Foot Fist Way (the phrase is a rough translation of "tae kwon do") is shot mock-doc style; it's probably best that way, since nothing much happens in the film as it ambles from episode to episode — or, more to the point, from sketch to sketch.
Unlike the rubes in Ferrell's sports-comedy canon, Fred's not entirely feckless: He knows his shit, or at least sounds like he does. But he's also mean-spirited and boorish — more loathsome than laughable, somebody just this side of turning into real trouble. He commands his students to live by the five tenets of tae kwon do — courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit — but exhibits nary a hint that he actually knows what those words mean. He barks at — and even swings at — children, makes inappropriate and painfully uncomfortable passes at would-be female students, and occasionally condones the use of violence on the elderly during sparring sessions.
A colleague insists that The Foot Fist Way is just another Napoleon Dynamite, a condescending portrait of the fringe-dwelling loner. But it's far more resonant than Napoleon, because Fred is far more than just some exaggerated dweeb or spastic bore, and McBride doesn't play him like a cartoon character. There's something real about this guy — and something real nasty about him, too, something that lingers after the movie's choked a few laughs out of an audience that won't know whether to pity Fred or punch him. Truthfully, The Foot Fist Way is no different from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Office: This is irritainment, something you snicker at while cringing and covering your eyes, praying that this guy never gets loose in the real world, when, in fact, he's your next-door neighbor. Or, God forbid, you.
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