There's nothing particularly subtle about the humor in Waiting For Guffman, Christopher Guest's mockumentary about a community theater group's attempts to celebrate its Missouri town's sesquicentennial, but there's nothing particularly mean about it either. Guest invites viewers to laugh at the film's parade of provincial eccentrics, but the invitation stops well short of cruelty. But not every small-town comedy knows better than to cross that line. Like an insult comic inviting the audience to applaud at a victim for being a good sport, Napoleon Dynamite gave its hero three minutes of redemption after 90 minutes of humiliation.
At least it had those three minutes; the Napoleon-esque The Foot Fist Way is considerably less generous. Star/co-writer Danny McBride (best known for his part in All The Real Girls, but soon to be better known for The Pineapple Express) plays a pudgy tae kwon do instructor who defines himself by his job, even though he isn't all that good at it. Confident enough to dub himself "king of the demo" even though his demonstrations usually result in him failing spectacularly, McBride has a shtick that goes over well with kids, but his few grown-up pupils have trouble taking him seriously. He remains largely cloaked in happy obliviousness until his wife (Mary Jane Bostic) reveals an indiscretion with her boss, sending McBride into an angry existential crisis.
As he descends into misery, the camera never looks away. And therein, in theory at least, lies the comedy. Trouble is, the gags just keep finding new ways to make McBride's strip-mall sensei seem pathetic, and the few scattered laughs never justify the cruelty. McBride never becomes sympathetic enough to elicit much pity, either. He's a deft performer who commits to the character with an intensity that's easy to admire, even when it strips his character of his thin, fumbling charm. (It's tough to like a guy after hearing him threaten to take a shotgun to his wife's breasts.)
Director/co-writer Jody Hill and co-writer Ben Best also appear as, respectively, a spacey martial-arts enthusiast and a sleazy action star named Chuck "The Truck" Wallace. Onscreen and off, they clearly share a comic sensibility rooted in a love of awkwardness. Honed a bit, they might someday produce a funnier movie than this one. It would be tough to produce a less likeable one.