When you think about all the remakes floating around Hollywood, it’s a miracle no one has made an indie comedy inspired by “The Karate Kid.” While “The Art of Self-Defense” may not be that film, it’s safe to assume that its karate-obsessed protagonist, played by Jesse Eisenberg, probably watched the movie a lot growing up. The second feature film from “Faults” writer/director Riley Stearns, the zany dark comedy premiered at SXSW earlier this year to rave reviews. Featuring Alessandro Nivola as a sinister Sensei and Imogen Poots as a woman duking it out with the best of them in the hyper-masculine dojo, “The Art of Self-Defense” could be the breakout indie comedy of the summer.
The official synopsis reads: “After he’s attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Poots), Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei’s mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.”
In his B+ review of the movie out of SXSW, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote that Stearns “reign[s] in his ironic style for a movie that works just right for his distinctive tone. … A tricky negotiation between the melancholy and the macabre. ‘The Art of Self-Defense’ doesn’t always pull that balance off, but it has enough ambition and wacky payoff to make the zany gamble worthwhile.”
The first official trailer teases fruitful comedic chemistry between Eisenberg and Nivola, whose stern taskmaster is a departure from his quietly revelatory recent work in “Selma” and “Disobedience.” Eisenberg is more at home in his type as the neurotic failing at masculinity, though from the looks of the trailer, he reaches another level we’ve never seen from him before.
Bleecker Street will release “The Art of Self-Defense” in limited theaters on July 12, with a wider release on July 19. Check out the trailer below.