The Art of Self-Defense
Machismo and sanctioned violence of any kind get a sinister, satiric, roundhouse kick to the face in The Art of Self-Defense, the new dark comedy from writer-director Riley Stearns. Meek accountant Casey (a totally on-point Jesse Eisenberg) is a nerdy wimp on all fronts. He runs out of dog food for his adorable dachshund and must take the long, lonely walk to the local grocer in the dark of night. A motorcyclist with a rider on back stops, asks if he has a gun, then rides away. On his way back from the store, that same motorcycle gang kicks the unholy shit out of him. Seeking help, Casey visits a dojo where he encounters Sensei, played by veteran actor Allessandro Nivola in a star turn that might perhaps get him the sort of outstanding notices he’s always deserved. Sensei is at times helpful in Casey’s quest to become more self-assured, but Sensei also has an evil side. Be wary of the night classes, where he has no problem breaking a man’s arm in two to demonstrate one of his twisted rules for the martial arts. The humor in Stearn’s script is drier than burnt toast left out in the middle of the desert with a magnifying glass perched over it. The actors don’t get laughs by telling jokes. They more or less get the laughs by being so hilariously awful you can’t believe it, especially Nivola. Teeth getting knocked out of somebody’s face have never been this funny.