If you are going to stretch what is essentially a sketch show character into a film that runs for about an hour and a half, you have to do a good job of fleshing out his story. Sketch show characters usually have one joke that keeps being repeated in different situations. To then try to take that popularity and make it last for over ninety minutes is ambitious and something I’ve only seen work a few times.
Sacha Baron Cohen just about makes it work. Borat was brilliant because he took the character but put him in “real life” situations. He just about managed the same thing with Bruno, though it was nowhere near as good as Borat. When he tried to stretch his original character, Ali G, across a film, the result was nowhere near as intelligent or funny. In fact it suffered from the fact that the characters are essentially one joke, constantly repeated.
It isn’t just Sacha Baron Cohen. Rowan Atkinson tried it, twice, with both Mr Bean and Johnny English and Harry Enfield had a go with Kevin the teenager. The films don’t work because the character, most of the time, is slightly too one-dimensional to carry a film. The film requires them to be able to do a lot more and when you begin to give them more character, in the form of heart, morals or learning a lesson, you begin to lose what makes the character funny in the first place. This is exactly what seems to happen with Fred Simmons in The Foot Fist Way.
The difference between the examples above and the character of Fred Simmons is that I had no prior knowledge of Simmons as a character. I’d watched, and been a fan, of most of the characters already mentioned but went into this from the trailer and the people behind the creation. This paid off as the first twenty minutes or so is brilliant. The character is introduced as a man who uses his clear obsession with Tae Kwon Do to mask or hide from the fact his life is slowly falling apart around him. The enthusiasm in which he enters the martial art and trains the kids, from his seriousness in demonstrations to him training a young apprentice, is all really funny. It’s only really funny the first time you see it though.
The problem is, there isn’t enough of a joke to support a ninety minute film. Once we’ve seen all Danny McBride’s character can offer, the film doesn’t really go anywhere. We are introduced to other, equally as crazy characters, but adding more unusual and surreal people to an already quite surreal film doesn’t add anything.
There are some great one-liners and some fantastic moments. The first half an hour is great and then there are some very funny parts after that but then it just goes through the motions until we get to the end. This should have been a fantastic thirty minute tv show or could even be part of a bigger sitcom, with Fred Simmons being a supporting character, but he just doesn’t have enough about him to hold a whole, ninety minute film. He just isn’t funny enough.
Overall, The Foot Fist Way is a perfect example of why a main character, though being very funny, has to have more than a one-dimensional joke to keep him entertaining. What could have been a great television show character is forced into a film that Danny McBride’s creation can’t sustain. This is a lot more Ali G than Borat and makes me slightly worried for the upcoming Alan Partridge film.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)