The Foot Fist Way

The Foot Fist Way


Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

As many sports' profiles exploded like a Jamaican sprinter at the Olympics, tae kwon do fared less well, blighted by super-dubious refereeing and a Cuban athlete kicking an official in the noggin (though secretly we all quite enjoyed that). A comparable level of farce is on offer in Jody Hill's tae kwon do-centred comedy, notably XXed by Will Ferrell, the funnyman of the moment.

Not that the marketing isn't energetic or thoughtful. In addition to leading a series of ill-attended demos in bland parking lots, the local tae kwon do teacher snorts at other supposed health techniques. “Meditation is terrific and all, but I've never heard of it saving anyone from a gang rape type situation" he tells a pretty blonde, perfectly oblivious to her incredulity. "You'd wish you’d have taken tae kwon do lessons, wouldn't you?" he says, smugly.

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Meet Fred Simmons (Danny McBride), a tutor and reverse psychology fan who presides over a class of spotty, portly young kids, shy teens and near-psychopathic 20-somethings and dotty old ladies in a bland small town. He's appealingly paradoxical: despite doting like a prepubescent poster-collector on his hero, kickboxing 'legend' Chuck ‘The Truck’ Wallace (Ben Best), Fred drives a Ferrari, charges his classes cunningly exorbitant charges, and boasts a surprisingly attractive wife in Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic), all plastic boobs and neverending legs.

Hill's film revolves around Fred's flexible frame, extracting humour from every situation and facial expression. Some of the wit is crude and obvious - biffs to the face during practice, say - but the majority is thankfully intelligent. Simmons' blunt features are the source of much observational mirth, while his astoundingly inappropriate deadpan comments remind one of Ricky Gervais in The Office. In a life lesson, he tells one small kid: "your parents will slit your throat just to get ahead".

But while we watch, Fred's polished existence implodes. Suzie's infidelity causes him to lose his calm aura in class, plus make a grotesque pass at that same pretty blonde: a scene equally hilarious and horrible to watch, so candidly is it presented. Newly emboldened, he convinces ‘The Truck’ to attend his class' all-important certification ceremony - taking young students to a rites-of-passage party in the process - but soon comes to ill-advised blows with his idol.

As with all comedies about ineptitude, there must come solemn moments of triumph; but, for once, this time they don't come soaked in schmaltz or get undermined by a instant gag. Hill knows when to lay off the comic pedal, and so conjures a cute tenderness - to pay Chuck’s appearance fee, Fred sells his Ferrari without ceremony or pride; his pride at his prodigies' improvement is touching but never mawkish nor overcooked.

There are clunky moments, however – notably the occasional horrible Beavis & Butthead-style lines. “I'm so hungry I could eat a grown man's ass” is a decent example. In fact the film in general is a little overladen with machismo and testosterone – charming as she is, Suzie’s simple: she’s blonde, a bimbo and an airhead. The only other female character is Fred’s favourite student – quickly asked to leave after she rebuffs his advances. I’m no feminist and Fred is a man’s man, but women still seem to get a raw deal here.

Nevertheless, Simmons is exceptional - at one moment a loveable and tragi-comic buffoon, and the next a selfish, sad and insecure idiot you love to hate. That his character isn't too pathetic helps enormously - it's much easier both to side with and invest in a half-competent character than the eternal losers so often encountered in such films. Then again, who would dare cross a man who can break wood and cement blocks with his bare hands? Just ask that referee in Beijing...

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2008
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The Foot Fist Way packshot
Comedy kicks in the life of a tae kwon do teacher.

Director: Jody Hill

Writer: Ben Best, Jody Hill, Danny R. McBride

Starring: Danny R. McBride, Ben Best, Mary Jane Bostic, Ken Aguilar, Tyler Baum, Sean Baxter, Bruce Cameron, Erin Fisher, Libertad Green, Juan-Carlos Guzman, Jody Hill

Year: 2006

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2006

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