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Fists of funny 

Low-budget comedy pushes a good thing too far.

TAEKWONDON'T: Danny McBride stars as the doltish martial arts instructor Fred Simmons in "The Foot Fist Way."
  • TAEKWONDON'T: Danny McBride stars as the doltish martial arts instructor Fred Simmons in "The Foot Fist Way."

In the convoluted way of movie distribution, the film that landed Danny McBride in plum roles in recent big-budget comedies like “Pineapple Express” and “Tropic Thunder” is only now making its way across the country's independent film circuit.

After debuting at Sundance two years ago and securing distribution with the help of comedy heavyweights Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, “The Foot Fist Way” seemed primed to become the next “Napoleon Dynamite,” an oddball low-budget comedy that surged on word of mouth. But while it hasn't exactly floundered, it's been far from a hit for MTV Films.

McBride stars as Fred Simmons, the head of a strip-mall taekwondo studio, whose grotesque ineptness far outstrips that of any character that Steve Carrell or Ricky Gervais has ever played. And that, at times, is a problem. Even at their most spiteful and oafish, the extreme insecurities in Carrell and Gervais' roles on “The Office” make them almost sympathetic characters. But McBride's Simmons is such a relentless jackass that after a while he's just plain exhausting.

Which is not to say that McBride isn't brilliant in the role. With a paunch and a neatly manicured mustache, he's casually hilarious as the foul-mouthed Simmons. If you grew up around boys in the South in the '80s, you'll probably recognize his type, even with all the comic excess. He's the guy who ordered throwing stars out of the back of comic books, traded a “Karate Kid” obsession for a Jean-Claude Van Damme one and spent hours debating whether something like a mountain lion could kick someone like Chuck Norris' ass.

Early in the film, Simmons breaks boards and concrete blocks and dominates his students like a fascist. But his unbridled confidence takes a hit when he finds out that his orange-tanned wife (Mary Jane Bostic) is cheating on him after he uncovers photocopied pictures of her ass and breasts in a work folder. (“I got really drunk,” she tries to explain. “Myrtle Beach drunk.”)

In coping, Simmons wails on a pre-teen student, weeps in front of his class and tells a pre-teen confidante named Julio that “People are shit. The only person that you can trust is me, your taekwondo instructor.”

The narrative of the film wobbles intentionally, but gets a driving force when Simmons gets to meet his idol, marginal Hollywood star Chuck “The Truck” Wallace, played with hilarious gusto by co-writer Ben Best. After an expertly choreographed fight in a hotel room — all of the film's martial arts come across looking real — “The Truck” agrees to appear at Simmons' studio's year-end finale, which has consequences both ruinous and redemptive.

“Meditation is great and all,” Simmons tells an attractive potential recruit at one point in the film after she sings the praises of yoga, “but I've never heard of it helping someone in a gang-rape situation. Meditate on that.”

That line is probably a good litmus test for whether you'll be appalled, exhausted or rolling in the aisles during “Foot Fist Way.”

For newly converted fans of McBride after “Pineapple Express” looking to get their hands on his prior work, David Gordon Green's “All the Real Girls” is probably a better place to start. McBride is just as hilariously bumbling, but sweeter.

 

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