Documentary character study Kung Fu Elliot starts off as a cringe-humor portrait of a delusional would-be action star, but gradually transforms into a thoughtful examination of its title character’s naïveté.
At first, scenes where unemployed karate champion Elliot Scott and his friends talk excitedly about their aspirations for Bloodfight, Scott’s third self-financed film, seem exploitative. But in time, co-directors Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau focus on the disconnect between their subject’s professed fantasies and his motivating insecurities.
So while most of Kung Fu Elliot concerns the making of Scott’s tacky vanity project — his guiding influences are Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris — Bauckman and Belliveau’s film is smartest and funniest when they ask Linda Lum, Scott’s exasperated wife, to react to his clueless behavior. Seeing the barely suppressed tension in Linda’s face when she repeatedly begs Elliot to propose to her with a ring and not through text message or email reminds us that Elliot’s not a sitcom-worthy oddball, though he often acts like one.
Linda’s frustrated but loving presence grounds Bauckman and Belliveau’s film whenever it threatens to devolve into cruel laugh-at-the-geek interview footage, like when Elliot boasts about “[having] the equipment for porn” and Linda ruthlessly shoots him down: “BS. Big-time, capital BS.” Elliot’s story isn’t always productively alienating, but Linda’s participation makes Kung Fu Elliot‘s startlingly explosive conclusion feel cathartic.