The character of Fred Simmons is a Cliff Clavin-esque sensei deluxe in “The Foot Fist Way,” a low-budget, low-flying farce a la “Napoleon Dynamite” or “Jackass: The Movie.” A film crying out to be discovered by midnight movie mavens, “Foot Fist” will require delicate handling to alchemize its unsmelted comedy into B.O. gold. But in the hands of those trained in the art of zen movie promotion, the pic could find its aud.
The key to the movie is the utter transparency of Simmons (a wonderful Danny McBride), a self-delusional fraud on almost every level. Yes, he does know the Korean martial art of Tae Kwan Do (the film’s title is the English translation) and teaches it in his strip-mall dojo to a wide-range of inexplicably devoted students. But he hasn’t acquired the virtues usually associated with karate –physical prowess or meditative contemplation.
Betrayed by his wife, Suzie (the adroitly bimbo-esque Mary Jane Bostic), he is not above taking out his frustrations on a 7-year-old dojo student, making an awkward pass at a female client or boasting about his own talents in a manner so bogus it’s laughable.
How laughable is the question. Simmons will make audiences cringe — but there’s undeniable humor in his blithely unaware repulsiveness.
To the credit of the screenplay, penned by first-time helmer Jody Hill, McBride and Ben Best (who plays Chuck “The Truck” Wallace), Simmons isn’t saddled with easy malapropisms or lazy verbal missteps. The character’s inarticulateness is dead-on natural and annoying, and betrays him at every turn.
Displaying a flair for breathtaking slapstick — some of the physical abuse is so over-the-top it hurts — Hill shot his film in North Carolina, mostly with first-timers who provide credible support for the movie’s seat-of-the-pants feel. Completed in 19 days, “Foot Fist Way” is roughed out, grainy, and at times surrenders to a home movie aesthetic, but this is appropriate given the slapdash qualities of Fred’s life.
Finding his hero, a Chuck Norris knockoff, cozying up to his wife leads to the predictable climax — this is a kung-fu film, after all — but it’s a conclusion that’s redemptive and outright hilarious.