The hokey phrase "laughing till it hurts" gets stretched beyond comfortable limits in this nervy, sometimes hilarious, yet vicious little farce, which has no qualms about fighting dirty or hittin' below the belt.
Its title refers to the Korean martial art of tae kwan do; which is the true calling of instructor Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) the self-proclaimed "king of the demo," a dude high on his own fumes, who treats every aspect of his life as if it were mortal combat.
He's a prime example of the kind of petty, macho blowhards who populate the dark corners of small-town rec centers and YMCAs nationwide. He's still dining out on an early '90s championship, and since then has missed no opportunity to toot his own horn, while growing ever flabbier and more pathetic, a fact everybody else seems aware of but him. When Fred finds out that his far-too-hot-for-him trophy wife (Mary Jane Bostic) took her office party shenanigans far beyond Xeroxing her boobs, he explodes into a full-fledged existential meltdown that threatens to burn down his personal castle of ego.
If the movie looks like it was made for about 11 cents, that's because it basically was, shot in 19 days as a self-financed effort, by McBride and writer-director Jody Hill that caught the attention of Will Ferrell and partner Adam McKay, who then helped the film find a distributor. This makes perfect sense, because Simmons is like every one of Ferrell's fatuous, know-nothing characters, but without the inherent need to be liked, and with a pronounced mean streak. McBride fully commits to this ass-clown; whether he's taking out his aggressions on an 8-year-old or clumsily hitting on a female student mere minutes after she signed up for the class, he sells every seedy detail. The problem is that a little bit of this goes a long, long way, yet Foot Fist keeps working the tender spots with an annoying barrage of all-too-familiar jokes. Cluelessness is only funny in spurts, and watching Fred try to sort it out goes from amusing diversion to squirm-in-your-seat agony. That seems to be what Hill was aiming for, and it's sort of admirable see a movie that never backs down or surrenders its principles, no matter how dumb or painful.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].