Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble. With half-assed laughter. Just like rotund little porknuggets with yellow belts where not every spin-kick looks sharp and maybe not every backfist is accurate, but goddamn, it still makes you smile when you watch them go through the motions. This movie hearkens me back to those days I spent in a strip mall dojo, spin kicking X-ray sheets and doing katas and self-defense demonstrations at arts fairs and outside mall food courts. Such is the case with The Foot Fist Way, a dinky little indie martial arts film that pulses with lots of heart and quite a bit of balls.
This is the story of Fred Simmons (Danny McBride), a strip mall sensei who swaggers around his small North Carolina town abusing and infusing his students with the glorious tenets of buy-a-belt Tae Kwon Do. Simmons spends most of his time with the senior students: Henry (Carlos Lopez), a thin acne ridden kid with confidence issues, and Julio (Spencer Moreno) a fat little ten-year-old doughball. Fred’s wife Susie (Mary Jane Bostic), a bleached blonde trailer chic harlot, cuckolds with her constant cockholding. He seeks redemption by bringing in his personal hero Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (Ben Best), a Z-Grade kung-fu movie hero, who’s a weird amalgamation of Road House Patrick Swayze and the lead singer of The Spin Doctors. After the Missus unsurprisingly takes a ride on “The Truck”, sensei and hero come to blows in one of the most epic asskickings to happen in the backyard of a duplex EVER.
Despite it’s numerous flaws, you can’t help but pull for this movie. It’s everything an independent film should be. Allegedly it was shot in 19 days on credit-card fumes, so it has the look of a documentary at times and seems like it was shot for $12 dollars plus the cost of KFC for craft services. The plot is completely McStarbucks: generic and unoriginal. Still, you can feel how much fun this movie was to make, and it bleeds through into the insane characters and the ludicrous pace. Most of the humor comes from watching small children and fat adults get jump sidekicked in the face and chest or generally getting verbally abused by the douchebaggerous insults of their sensei. However, while most martial-arts comedies rely solely on the Wu Xi Crotch Kick or the Crane-Style Kung Pao Face Fart for chuckles, all the full-contact slapstick comes straight out of the character development. When a grown man kicks a hyperactive child in the face, it’s actually based on the story and not merely because it’s funny when young kids get hurt.
There’s a moment where, at a wild groupie shindig, the portly Julio sits on a hotel couch in front of a table piled high with cocaine. In shoddier comedies, they’d have the little kid snorting the Bolivian marching powder through a crazy straw. Instead, he sits there playing with it like a bored child making sugar packet drawings at a diner table. That choice is a billion times funnier, because that’s what a kid would do. The filmmakers are smart enough to realize that if you actually make amusing characters, you can let them do all the heavy lifting with the comedy.
However, the entire movie lives and breathes on Danny McBride, who essentially takes his character Bust-Ass from All The Real Girls and turns him into a moustachioed bastion of machismo. It’s impossible not to draw immediate comparisons to “The Office,” where a self-important officious prick humiliates and insults his underlings because he wants them to love and worship him. What’s amazing about this is we get to see him fall apart, realize he’s a loser, rebuild his false bravado as he tears down of everyone around him. He spends his time swearing at children, whooping and hollering as he tries to break boards in parking lots, and dishing out half-baked fortune-cookie wisdom culled from fuzzy VHS tapes of his own NASCAR-stached master.
Instead of feeling like some sort of cheap imitation, it’s more like an introduction to the next big thing. This was like catching Lonely Island on Channel 101 before “Dick in a Box” and “Lazy Sunday” were conceived. It’s the confounding genius of Napoleon Dynamite before it was overquoted and frat-tackled into dullardry. It’s the same pleasure you get watching early Wes Anderson, and realizing that Owen Wilson can act, and you’ve always wanted to be in one of Jason Schwarzmann’s fucking plays. It’s those first shaky images on Liquid Television of “Frog Baseball” and realizing that these two trailer-park deviants will lead us to the quotable glory of Office Space, like Jesus turning water into wine coolers. It’s the heralding of things yet to come, whether that’s our comedy savior (which I still insist is contained within the womb of Poehler Magdalene) or the first of the Four Horsemen of the Crapocalypse, Flatulence.
The script was written by McBride, Best, and the director Jody Hill, who also cameos as Mike McAllister, a psychotic blonde who no doubt spends his off-time masturbating to mangas and watching The Animatrix. Most of the movie feels like they were trying to get the attention of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay with their clever antics. And it worked. The next project they’re working on is an HBO television series called “East Bound and Down,” about a failure of a baseball player who returns to coach at his old middle school. Essentially it’s going to be a whole lot more of the same, which is fine by this guy.
While I want to support this film, it’s not something that necessarily needs to be seen in theatres. It will end up being a DVD darling, and rightfully so, earning a spot on the shelf next to The Last Dragon and Hard to Kill. Please understand though, this is not really a martial arts movie so much as an underdog movie. It’s comparable to The Karate Kid if they tried to make the fifth movie with Ralph Macchio returning to take over Cobra Kai in some bizarre Revenge of the Nerds late sequel turn of fate. This is definitely a movie you are going to want to watch. It’s not a great movie, but it’s been a long time since I legitimately laughed that hard at such frivolous beatings.
Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.
The Foot Fist Way / Brian Prisco
Film Reviews | June 4, 2008 | Comments ()