WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Ronnie Barnhardt is a kickass shopping-mall head-security guard with severe delusions of power. He meets his match when a cynical police detective is called in to take care of business after Ronnie and his crew fail to stop a parking lot flasher and can’t foil a jewelry-store robbery. Determined to prove his worth in the trade and in his personal life Ronnie applies for a job as a cop pursues a cosmetics salesgirl and tries to solve some crimes using his own unorthodox methods.
WHO’S IN IT?
Tailor-made for the considerable comic talents of Seth Rogen Barnhardt is a funny Travis Bickel a guy with severe self-worth issues who carries on a dialogue with himself in his head. Unlike Paul Blart this is a mall cop out to maul first and ask questions later. Rogen fits the bill and singlehandedly makes it all worth seeing. Anna Faris as his prospective girlfriend is given lots of opportunities to overact — and takes all of them. Still she’s quite funny in a drunken dinner scene that ends with her passed out in the bedroom under Rogen’s huge girth. Ray Liotta pretty much walks through his role as the pro detective who thinks Barnhardt is a total joke. Michael Pena is strong as another security guard while twins John and Matt Yuan and Jesse Plemons are hilarious as their dim-witted mall cop colleagues. Although he only has a couple of scenes Aziz Ansari steals them both as a smart-aleck hanger-on. Celia Weston and Rogen as mother and son have some wonderfully droll moments together but it’s first-time actor Randy Gambill as the flasher who gets the real comic workout and exposes himself as one to watch (hopefully with his clothes back on next time).
A cynical acerbic attitude rules the day here and the idea of putting a real wacko in the mall-cop position has more bite than the PG-13 Blart a movie that was blessed with the likable presence of Kevin James but suffered major credibility lapses.
Writer/director Jody Hill had a great idea but too often goes for the easy joke or gross-out gag when he should have drifted straight into hell with this character and really let Rogen loose. It’s hilarious in parts but the overall tone is wildly uneven and not totally satisfying.
The final confrontation between Rogen and the flasher has to be seen to be believed and on its own more than enough to merit the film’s well-deserved restricted rating.
SHOULD THERE BE A SEQUEL?
Yes and it should pair Blart vs. Barnhardt in a food-court showdown. It could be the best thing since Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.
As the film’s title indicates in no uncertain terms our heroine teenager Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett) is haunted by a tragic past that keeps coming back to torment her. Attempting to acclimate to a new school (Huntington Prep) Molly must deal with new classmates and also recurring bouts of nosebleeds and hallucinations -- particularly of her wild-eyed mother (Marin Hinkle) who had previously tried to stab her to death claiming that she was trying to save her from some sort of birthright. “The darkness is coming for you ” said Mom before plunging a pair of scissors into Molly’s chest. What’s really going on? Are Molly’s hallucinations of a psychotic or a supernatural nature? It takes a long while to get to that point by which time the answer should be obvious ... and long after audience interest has dwindled severely.
An interesting and attractive actress Haley Bennett (Music and Lyrics) doesn’t necessarily project the vulnerability that her tormented character would call for but she seems capable of carrying a film. Unfortunately this one lets her down -- and the problem lies entirely in the story. Everyone else in the cast is saddled with one-dimensional characters: Jake Weber as Molly’s perennially-worried dad; Chace Crawford as the resident hunk; Shanna Collins as a born-again classmate; and Shannon Marie Woodward as a more rebellious classmate. Ron Canada as the school superintendent is on and off the screen so fast one wonders why he bothered at all. There is however a nice if smallish turn by Nina Siemaszko as the school’s guidance counselor who’s clearly got her eye on these goings-on. The Haunting of Molly Hartley marks the feature directorial debut of Mickey Liddell who previously toiled on the small screen as a producer of Everwood and Jack & Bobby two shows with prominent teenaged characters -- so he has experience in the field. There are some interesting camera angles and technically the film is competent enough but the story unravels at the midway point and Liddell is unable to stop the skid. By the film’s (foregone) conclusion it’s begun to telegraph its shocks and its plot twists with increasing regularity. It’s well-made but it’s also flat. There’s not a particularly high body count but there’s obvious editing in some of the more violent scenes -- clearly an attempt to earn the film a PG-13 rating which is a far friendlier proposition at the box-office where this should earn some decent coin from the horror faithful.
The tenets of the martial arts as they apply to Fred Simmons (co-writer Danny McBride)--a self-absorbed self-deluded strip-mall Tae Kwon Do instructor--are explored in this appealing indie farce. When Fred’s not belittling or berating his students he’s espousing his loony philosophies and demonstrating his own (mediocre) prowess at Tae Kwon Do--utterly convinced that he is the living embodiment of the art. Life throws him a curveball--or gives him a karate chop to the neck if you will--when he discovers that his bimbo wife Suzie (Mary Jane Bostick) has been playing around. His inner strength shaken to the core Fred tries to apply the very teachings he espouses to his own mess of a life succeeding only in making it messier. Nevertheless as befits come-from-behind stories like this fate has a way of smiling on the underdog--no matter how stupid he may be. McBride soon to be seen in Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express plays it perfectly straight as the pompous boor who’s not nearly as smart sexy or savvy as he thinks he is. Instead he’s smug smarmy and would be utterly unbearable were it not for the clueless charm that McBride plays him with. It’s a splendid comedic performance. Bostick complements McBride perfectly as the bubble-headed salon-tanned stereotypical dumb-blonde wife who just can’t seem to keep her hands to herself--and we’re not talking about the martial (or even the marital) arts. Ben Best who also collaborated on the screenplay with McBride and Jody Hill comes into the game late as Fred’s chop-socky idol the equally smarmy Chuck “The Truck” Wallace whose own adherence to the contemplative and spiritual nature of the martial arts is as bogus as Fred’s. As the most stalwart of Fred’s students Spencer Moreno and Carlos Lopez IV stand out with director Hill himself rounds out an enthusiastic cast of up-and-comers. The true success of the film is its confident execution which belies Hill’s first-timer status. The Foot Fist Way is consistently funny not because of the slapstick gags--although those work too--but in the pitch-perfect realization of characters that in other hands might well have been insufferable. Instead they’re amusing and appealing--even more so the worse they behave. The Hollywood landscape is littered with slob comedies that mistake lowbrow idiocy for inventiveness. The Foot Fist Way never makes that mistake and it moves speedily and entertainingly enough that its slow patches are quickly forgotten and forgiven.