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Movie Review

Funny high-kicking nonsense

Danny McBride (left) and Ben Best co-wrote and costar in the low-budget comedy 'The Foot Fist Way.' Danny McBride (left) and Ben Best co-wrote and costar in the low-budget comedy "The Foot Fist Way." (GIA RUIZ/PARAMOUNT VANTAGE)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / June 6, 2008

It's no surprise at all that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have lent their names as co-presenters to "The Foot Fist Way," the sly, very low-budget farce opening today. Star Danny McBride plays the sort of deluded Middle American blowhard Ferrell has taken to the bank on more than one occasion, and the film itself suggests a sketch video on Ferrell and McKay's "Funny or Die" website, padded out to the dimensions of a character comedy.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn't bring enough padding. "The Foot Fist Way" sustains a mood of mordantly rude strip-mall satire for about 30 minutes before it begins repeating itself. Then it goes on for another hour, an increasingly wearying loop of beer-belly self-disgust.

McBride is something to see, though. The actor, who co-wrote the script with director Jody Hill and costar Ben Best, plays Fred Simmons, an overweight, bullheaded North Carolina tae kwon do instructor whose glory days, if they ever existed, are a decade or two behind. His lessons mostly consist of foulmouthed attempts to convince his young students he's still top dog; at home, Fred is humiliated by his bimbo wife, Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic), who'd rather help male co-workers at her new job find creative uses for the Xerox machine.

This is the comedy of discomfort, in other words, and McBride and company go for the jugular. The only innocents in the movie are Fred's prize students, a rotund Hispanic kid named Julio (Spencer Moreno), and a shy beanpole named Henry (Carlos Lopez IV), who's regularly beaten down by the class's hulking bully (Ken Aguilar). Fred considers such drubbings part of the greater learning experience.

"The Foot Fist Way" - the title is a literal translation of tae kwan do - gets most of its laughs the easy way, by having Fred drop the F-bomb in front of the kids, "Bad Santa"-style, or pummeling the young son of a man he thinks is having an affair with Suzie. A deeper, more uneasy humor comes from watching this loser plow through life with a heavy-lidded disdain that can't disguise his panic. The towns of America are filled with boy-men like this, the movie implies, clinging to imported notions of macho and fooling nobody but themselves.

Eventually Fred catches his wife doing the horizontal mambo with a visiting martial arts star (played greasily by co-writer Best), and when the "The Foot Fist Way" starts begging for our sympathy, the tension runs right out of the movie. There's a good, vulgar joke involving a wedding ring late in the film, but by then you may have stopped caring.

When all is said and done, this is the kind of sloppily earnest regional filmmaking meant to serve as an industry calling card, and with Ferrell on board it has served its purpose. I wonder if Hollywood's the best place for these guys' talents, though. By far the best part of "The Foot Fist Way" is the heartland bleakness it spends so much time dancing nervously around.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

The Foot Fist Way

Directed by: Jody Hill

Written by: Hill, Danny McBride, Ben Best

Starring: McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Best

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 87 minutes

Rated: R (strong language, sexual content, middle-class self-loathing)

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