Saturday, October 18th, 2008 at 3:43 pm
The Foot Fist Way Directed by Jody Hill
Starring Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Collette Wolfe
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) is king of all he surveys, a man in total control and brimming with the wisdom and confidence of the greatest senseis. Fred is a master of the art of Tae Kwon Do (English translation: The Foot Fist Way) and the “demo” — the demonstration of his abilities — and a self-serving, egotistical prick who is completely oblivious to the feelings of those around him. Since Fred won the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational he’s been coasting on the minor celebrity the title brought won and he managed to parlay it into a small dojo located in a North Carolina strip mall. Even though his raging ego tends to steamroll over his impressionable students, they still respect him enough to heed his lessons and defer to his authority. When it comes to the foot fist way, Fred Simmons knows his shit.
But soon Fred’s modest kingdom off the interstate begins to crumble when he discovers that his blowsy wife Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic) has been unfaithful. Fred’s boiling-over rage and aggression begins to manifest itself in his attitude towards his students. He even makes a pathetic attempt to hit on his new student Denise (Collette Wolfe). A chance meeting with his idol, martial arts master and washed-up movie star Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (Ben Best), leads to a guaranteed appearance from the Truck at the upcoming ceremony for Fred’s students where they test for their new belts that recharges his mojo. As good as things seem to be getting for our resilient black belt-sporting hero, they are destined to get much worse and Fred Simmons must put his knowledge of the foot fist way to its ultimate test.
An eighty-two minute celebration of breaking boards, flying feet, bloodied noses, and humor of a biting and uncomfortable vein, Jody Hill‘s The Foot Fist Way is one of the best comedies I have seen this year. It came out of nowhere and after a brief run in theater, it returned to nowhere just as fast. I had first read of this rough little comedic gem last year in an online interview with comedian Patton Oswalt and ever since I have searched for some indication it was being released. Only when Will Ferrell and his Anchorman director Adam McKay got their hands on a bootleg copy of the film and offered to get it a theatrical release did it finally start to gain steam. Coming out for a limited run in the midst of a crowded somewhere between Iron Man and The Dark Knight (not a good place for a low-budget comedy), The Foot Fist Way didn’t have much of a chance to gain an audience. No matter, as movies like this are the kind that tend to find a following thanks to the power of cable and DVD and its distributor Paramount Pictures, which released the movie through their Paramount Vantage boutique label, have put together a fine DVD stocked with enough bonus features to help The Foot Fist Way gather a large cult following in the years to come.
The Foot Fist Way will most likely be best known as our formal introduction to the comedic prowess of one Danny McBride. Since word about the film started getting around Hollywood, McBride has managed to snag himself plum supporting roles in major studio comedies like Pineapple Express (where he played the morally ambiguous drug dealer Red) and Tropic Thunder (where he played the demolitions expert on the titular Vietnam War epic). McBride has proven himself time and again to be a talented screen comedian willing to throw himself physically and emotionally into even the smallest role for the sake of making the movie just a bit funnier. On the basis of his performance here and in the movies I’ve already mentioned, McBride can look forward to a prosperous career because this guy’s too good to sit on the sidelines forever. Playing Fred Simmons, McBride is the star of the show and gets to play out a classic story arc where a man bloated with ego is humbled and must rebuild him into a better person. He is also the recipient of the funniest lines and moments in the movie but that is a major testament to his gift for comedy.
Even if you find yourself cringing afterwards, you have to admit Fred makes for a priceless creep when he’s hilariously dressing down the students and prospective students he feels are inferior just because they haven’t devoted themselves fully to Tae Kwon Do the way he has. Fred enjoys his position of power and authority but every once in a while something in him briefly surfaces to express that he’s fully aware that he ultimately may be the king of nothing. This inner venom comes out at point when Fred verbally lashes out at a man who just came off the street and turns down becoming a student because of the price of the lessons: “If you were in prison, you’d be raped because you exude feminine qualities. You’re also a big ole fat piece of ass.”
His relationship with wife Suzie is visibly strained. A high point of their week is going to the local seafood restaurant for 2 for 1 crab legs. But through it all Fred remains honorable adhered to the code of the warrior, even if he doesn’t start to take their lessons fully to heart until the end. McBride, who I pointed out in my review of Pineapple Express looks a lot like Officer Rod Farva from Super Troopers, lays on the misplaced machismo thick with the buzz cut hairdo you could land a radio-controlled airplane on and the Burt Reynolds mustache. It’s just the icing on what is a perfectly conceived comedy character, a first class jerk full of himself and totally blind to those he dominates in his strip mall domain. Fred Simmons could be cut from the mold of the dickish but well-meaning David Brent as played by Ricky Gervais in the original (and still best) The Office.
Mary Jane Bostic nails the look and manner of a lost suburban wife in her performance as Fred’s adulterous wife Suzie complete with too much make-up and a cheap tanning bed skin job. Fred and Suzie could be made for each other because she too seems to be oblivious to the suffering she inflicts upon others in order to boost her own ego. But unlike Fred, she’s willing to justify her actions with lame excuses and phony displays of emotion, and she will never change. Ben Best creates a rip-roaring parody of gone-to-seed action movie heroes as Fred’s fallen hero and douchebag supreme Chuck the Truck. In a way, Chuck is Fred taken to the Nth degree; both men are small-minded egomaniacs clinging helplessly to the fleeing moments when they were somebody. When Fred finds out what his longtime idol is really like anyone who has grew up to see their heroes become complete assholes, myself included, can relate. Best brings great hilarious sleaze to the part. It just goes to show that Chuck the Truck may have the money and the minor fame, but deep down Fred is the better man because his students look up to him and he will never let them down no matter how bad things get.
Of the remaining actors who get speaking parts several of the kids playing Fred’s students stand out the most. Three in particular: Ken Aguilar as Rick, the reigning raging bull of the class; Spencer Moreno as Julio, Fred’s energetic young teaching assistant; and Carlos Lopez as Henry, an insecure geeky kid who’s learning Tae Kwon Do to gain confidence and boost his self-esteem. Even director Hill gets in on the action playing Mike McAlister, Fred’s best friend and fellow master of the demo. Hill’s performance proves to be one of the funniest and his look — think a prepubescent Julian Sands dressed as a Shaolin monk — works well to his advantage. Collette Wolfe has a few brief but priceless scenes as Denise, Fred’s fetching new student. Her reactions to his feeble attempts at coming on to her rank with the best scenes of awkward humor in the comedies of Christopher Guest.
The screenplay by Hill, McBride, and Best is loaded with laugh-out-loud quotable dialogue. Hill’s direction shows an uncanny eye for the desolate, overdeveloped suburban neighborhoods and plain-looking strip malls of the southern states. Living in the capital of the Confederacy I have seen many a small-time karate dojo nestled in local shopping centers between the Dollar Generals and the unfinished furniture stores. The look of Fred’s dojo is just right. There’s even a kick ass soundtrack of hard-driving rock tunes by Pyramid and the Dynamite Brothers that give the proceedings a generous helping of energy.
Now let’s get on to those special features.
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment’s DVD presentation of The Foot Fist Way features a fine yet suitably grainy 1.85:1 widescreen picture that does not belie the movie’s low budget origins. If they ever release it in Blu-Ray I doubt the picture quality would look much different. Ditto the sound. The disc’s English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks get the job done with more than enough emphasis on the dialogue and wall-to-wall rock tunes.
The bonus materials kick off with a full-length audio commentary from Hill, McBride, and production designer Randy Gambill that I have not yet listened to.
Next we move onto a 25-minute behind the scenes featurette that turns out to be a montage of silent home movies shot during the making of the film. This is probably because a low-budget independent film like The Foot Fist Way usually doesn’t have the funds for additional film crews. The end result is a unique approach to DVD documentaries that unfortunately doesn’t warrant repeat viewings.
There are twenty deleted and extended scenes totaling thirty-one minutes. Some of the longer bits contain their fair share of laughs but you can see why they were cut.
An alternate ending provides us with a much different, and much darker, resolution to Fred and Suzie’s relationship. Once again it’s mildly amusing but the filmmakers were justified in cutting it.
Two brief blooper scenes are included. Mostly they consist of McBride and Hill goofing around. Good for some giggles, but just once.
The disc closes off with a reel of previews for other Paramount theatrical and DVD releases: Kenny Vs. Spenny Volume 1: Uncensored, South Park: The Complete Eleventh Season, Defiance, The Love Guru, and American Teen. The latter three play upfront when you load the disc.
The Foot Fist Way is a giant pleasure in a small package. It’s a modest comedic treasure that should be discovered by anybody in the mood for a hearty laugh. I highly recommend this DVD.