Fist Fight, 2017.
Directed by Richie Keen.
Starring Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, Tracy Morgan, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dennis Haysbert, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Alexa Nisenson, Stephnie Weir, and Austin Zajur.
When one school teacher gets the other fired, he is challenged to an after-school fight.
Fist Fight is exactly what it is billed as being, which is frankly some of the best information that could come out of a review for this over-the-top, outlandishly cartoony R-rated comedy. There actually is a knock em’ down, drag out fight between two wildly different high school teachers (Charlie Day is a lenient and meek pushover both as an English teacher and in life’s general confrontational situations, while Ice Cube is the scary, assertive, steely eyed history teacher that will chew out students with no remorse thanks to his hardened and weirdly explained out of place backstory). It’s not above a studio to pull a bait and switch, having two enemies join forces for a common goal, but that’s not the case here; no fisticuffs are pulled meaning audiences receive what they most likely desire.
However, the road to that titular fight feels about as long as an actual day of school, which is a bit crazy considering the movie barely cracks 90 minutes. Much of the movie is actually Campbell (Charlie Day) taking matters into his hands to extreme measures in hopes of getting back into the good graces of the recently fired Strickland (Ice Cube) or getting rid of him so the fight will hopefully be called off. The good news is that with the two aforementioned leads and a supporting cast that includes names such as Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, and a few more, for as long as the movie meanders building to the 3PM sharp teacher brawl-for-all, there is a likable group of actors playing some equally likable loony characters.
Jillian Bell in particular might be one of the most underrated comedian actors out there right now (comparing her to both other women and male comedians), who here plays a meth addicted teacher more interested in sexually hooking up with students than actually, you know, teaching. As to be expected, her line delivery and helter-skelter unreliability make for some of the film’s most offensive yet funny moments. She’s the last person in the world you want teaching high school children, going for broke playing up that personality. Also, Christina Hendricks is a French teacher accidentally under the impression that Campbell is a teenage boy pervert, actively giving her a reason to root for Strickland, deciding to theatrically act out violent knife and throat slashing gestures in his presence. It’s funny, and sadly still more than she got to do in her throwaway Bad Santa 2 role.
Naturally, Charlie Day is once again an energized chipmunk looking scared to death (half the time it looks like his life is flashing before his eyes just even thinking about the inevitable beating coming his way) whose hyperactive personality is just enough to carry the movie through its repetitiveness and testy moments where audiences just want the fight to start. It’s almost like the hype surrounding an exciting WWE main event, where the journey is book-ended by filler. Without going into details, the once-in-a-lifetime school parking lot rumble definitely entertains and exceeds expectations, introducing a number of weapons and different elements to the punching and kicking.
The major problem is that much of the humor along the way is far too sophomoric, and even more bizarrely, something the writers deem clever and inventive, as teachers comment that they wish students were more ambitious about their senior pranks than their school work. Maybe it’s because I’m not 12, but drawing dicks on a whiteboard or using a lawnmower to make grass shaped dicks isn’t very funny nor creative. The same goes for gluing down random objects. With that said, there are a few genuinely outrageous ribs, such as hiring a Mariachi band to play music and follow around the school principal. There is also a horse running amok through the hallways on meth. So, there are attempts to get wildly ludicrous, but for the most part it’s just crass and lazy depending on penises and swearing to achieve laughs.
This is slightly surprising considering that the beginning and ending of the movie does actively dish out social commentary on the state of the current education system, also with regards to the complete disrespect that the teachers themselves are met with from their superiors on a day-to-day basis. There’s an out-of-control school containing teachers with different styles and backgrounds, yet neither can really gain control, which would land more as critical commentary if the comedy wasn’t so juvenile, but instead grounded into ways that real high school children behave. Yeah, they’re not all exactly highbrow, but they’re also nowhere near this ridiculous.
If anything, writing this review has brought to my own attention that with another rewrite or two along with more focus on the movie actually saying something important before the climactic fight, Fist Fight could have been great. There is also an unshakable feeling that the whole thing would simply work better as a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live or something similar, as the experience really does begin to drag and drag as viewers anxiously await Charlie Day and Ice Cube throwing down. Regardless, this is a missed opportunity with a good movie buried underneath all the dick jokes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★