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THE FOOT FIST WAY

Comedies don’t have to be big and slick to be winners—as a matter of fact that’s usually a hindrance nowadays—but they do need to be funny. That’s where “The Foot Fist Way” stumbles. The poverty-row picture about a doofus tae kwan do teacher tries to make hay out of the man’s obliviousness and buffoonery, but succeeds only in being as stupid and irritating as its protagonist. And its supposedly slapstick knockabout bits are less amusing than nasty.

Danny McBride stars as Fred Simmons, an abrasive, self-promoting and incredibly dense martial-arts instructor who owns an improbably successful school in a small-town strip mall. He regularly pushes around his students, especially his most loyal ones—“second-in-command” Julio (Spencer Moreno) and milquetoast Henry (Carlos Lopez IV)—but they remain loyal to him despite his empty bluster. Fred’s devoted to his blonde bombshell of a wife Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic), even though she’s obviously unfaithful to him, but his attention is so focused on his job that he’s slow on the uptake.

When he becomes aware of her extracurricular activities, however, it sets him off, leading him not only to abuse a kid he thinks is her lover’s son but to attempt an awkward, hopeless seduction of a pretty new student (Collette Wolfe). But it’s not enough to keep him from taking the opportunity to go to a convention spotlighting his hero, Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (Ben Best), a low-rent Chuck Norris who’s the star of a bunch of Z-quality DVD movies. And when he corrals Wallace into appearing at his dojo’s graduation exhibition (even though he won’t be able to afford the fellow’s fee), he’s overjoyed—until the preening champ comes to town and shows a lot more interest in his paycheck and Suzie than in any ceremonies. A face-off is inevitable.

Clearly “The Foot Fist Way” is aiming for a “Napoleon Dynamite” sort of sensibility; in inviting viewers to laugh at the lead character’s clueless attitude, it’s as condescending as that surprise cult smash was. But there’s a crucial difference in that while Napoleon had a naïve sweetness to him, there’s nothing remotely redeeming about Simmons, whose total lack of self-knowledge is matched only by his brutish, aggressive personality. (It’s no wonder that Will Ferrell’s among the established stars who’ve embraced the picture—his company is releasing it—since Fred has a lot in common with his stumblebum, self-absorbed creations.) The result is that though we’re supposed to identify with him in the semi-triumphant finale, that’s almost impossible to do.

On the upside, there are occasional moments of muted charm provided by Moreno and Lopez, who are so likable that they make one regret that Julio and Henry ever had anything to do with Fred. And you have to admit that McBride is eerily on-target in what’s a genuinely fearless performance, and that Best is similarly convincing as the obnoxious Wallace. But neither brings any sympathetic shading to his character, and that’s ultimately fatal.

And everybody else in the cast—especially Bostic—have the whiff of amateur hour about them, and Jody Hill’s direction is more than a little laissez faire. The tech credits are distinctly low-grade, but what do you expect of a movie made on credit cards in North Carolina in less than three weeks?

But it’s not the homespun quality that dooms “The Foot Fist Way,” it’s the essential meanness of its main character, who invites more appalled revulsion than affection, more winces than laughs. So the picture is a matter of tae kwan don’t.

MADE OF HONOR

In his TV incarnation Patrick Dempsey may be called McDreamy, but his new romantic comedy is more like a nightmare. “Made of Honor” is basically a gender-bending version of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” in which the “Grey’s Anatomy” heartthrob takes on the Julia Roberts role, playing the long-time buddy of an about-to-be-wed woman who suddenly realizes that he’s actually in love with the imminent bride and aims to break up the coming nuptials. As the title indicates, though, in this case Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) also asks her best pal Tom (Dempsey) to serve—rather incongruously, of course—as her maid of honor when she marries a handsome, well-heeled Scottish nobleman in his ever-so-scenic homeland. That only aggravates Tom’s discomfort, of course.

This is a premise that would rankle under the best of circumstances, but under Paul Weiland’s flabby direction it plumbs the depths of the chickflick genre. As written by the trio of Adam Sztykiel, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont and played by Dempsey, Tom is basically an obnoxious guy whose Lothario status is matched only by the smugness of the attitude with which he goes about bedding girls (he’s got a whole list of rules governing the process)—who, it seems, can’t help but hand him their phone numbers and beg for a second date. (It was also a mistake to begin the story with a sequence showing his cutesy first meeting with Hannah in college, in which he looks like one of the oldest frat boys in history.) And Dempsey fails to make his transformation into lovesick swain at all charming. The vapidity of the character is evidenced by the fact that, as far as I can recall, we’re not even told what Tom’s supposed to do for a living. (Maybe he’s just a jobless playboy with the predictably empty life.)

Monaghan is almost as big a problem. Hannah’s a cipher to begin with—too dense to realize Tom’s actual feelings for her until the last possible moment—but the actress does the character no favors anyway, with a performance that lacks fizz.

“Made of Honor” fumbles further by surrounding this pallid pair with secondary figures who are, if anything, even more irritating, sealing the movie’s doom with what’s often a romantic comedy’s saving grace, a great supporting cast. Hannah’s intended, Colin McMurray (Kevin McKidd) is a total stiff, and his relatives—especially his mother (Hannah Gordon) and aunt (Myra McFadyen)—are such snooty Scottish stereotypes that the characters could cause an international incident (especially when they become chief actors in a really tone-deaf final act). Sydney Pollack, who plays Tom’s much-married dad, proves a formula joke whose late scenes of self-recognition are even worse than his randy shtick early on. Even sadder is poor Selma Stern as Hannah’s grandmother, who has to do a prolonged skit involving some sex toys that’s truly excruciating. (To be fair, Kathleen Quinlan manages to maintain her dignity as Hannah’s mother.)

But it’s the pals of Tom and Hannah that really come off poorly. Her trio of bridesmaids, from bitchy Melissa (Busy Philipps) to chubby Hilary (Emily Nelson) and nondescript Stephanie (Whitney Cummings), are a tiresome bunch, and he’s got a posse (Kadeem Hardison, Chris Messina and Richmond Arquette) that couldn’t be blander. Even they’re to be preferred, though, to a gym pest called Tiny Shorts Guy (Kevin Sussman), who—one presumes—is meant to be lovably odd but comes off as really creepy instead, the picture’s worst combination of bad writing, acting and direction.

There’s some modest compensation to be found in the glossy visuals provided by Tony Pierce-Roberts, who makes the most of the exteriors in the final reels and earlier on uses the New York locations well, though one scene shot through a revolving door is a miscalculation. And overall the physical production is fine. But it’s all in the service of a misconceived idea poorly executed. Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, though, is oppressively intrusive.

People may not recall that Dempsey had an earlier movie career marked by such bombs as “In the Mood” (aka “The Woo Woo Kid”), “Loverboy” and “Run.” You’d think that given a second bigscreen chance as a result of his success on the tube, he might choose projects more carefully. But “Made of Honor” proves that his acumen in that respect doesn’t seem to have improved with age.