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 a film difficult to write-off entirely but also rarely as hilarious as you’d hope it to be on the basis of its talented cast. The fun double act between Charlie Day and Ice Cube just about keeps it on the right side of watchable, but this is strictly a “save it for Netflix” deal unless you’re especially bored.
It’s the last day of school before summer vacation, and all Hell is breaking loose. Teachers are struggling to maintain control of their classes, and hot-headed history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) ends up lashing out at one of his misbehaving students…with a fire axe, as witnessed by shy and retiring English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day). With the looming threat of faculty redundancies, Andy rats out Ron to save his own hide, who is then fired for his misconduct. Ron responds by challenging Andy to a fist fight in the playground after school.
It’s an amusing enough idea that hasn’t really been done before, but it ultimately also feels rather undercooked in the gestation stage, cobbled together by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia director Richie Keen and two screenwriters, Van Robichau and Evan Susser, with little notable experience. Curiously, New Girl’s Schmidt himself, Max Greenfield, is credited as co-creating the story.
At least it mostly dispenses with preambles and takes little time at all to power through the set-up, even if the titular fight itself is saved for the very end of the movie. Until then, Day and Cube are relentlessly played off one another, milking the inherently compelling clash of comedy styles the two possess, though disappointingly not making the most of an adult-friendly rating beyond liberal use of the f-word. No doubt in an alternate universe, there’s a 12A version of this movie that’s unbearably bland.
The supporting cast sure doesn’t want for talent, even if most of the roles are fairly forgettable and one-note; there’s Tracy Morgan as a sad sack gym coach, Christina Hendricks as a sexy drama teacher, Dean Norris as a consistently baffled, pissed-off principal, and easily the best of the bunch, Jillian Bell as meth addict counselor Holly. In the end, though, none of them are blessed with particularly memorable material, and one suspects they were left to lean heavily on their own improvisational skills with a script so frequently threadbare.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that Keen’s direction is, as is true of most studio comedies, dispassionate and boring, struggling throughout to prop up a script loaded with obnoxious MacBook product placement and sentimental asides that really don’t work at all (especially a howlingly unearned ending). Even though there does appear to be occasionally noble intent here – some pointed references are made to America’s dreadfully under-funded public school system – it’s superficial at best and feels mostly tacked on, like it belongs in a completely different movie.
Still, the climactic fight is fun and there’s a barmy, even hilarious song-and-dance number that comes wildly out of left-field. Fist Fight won’t hurt the careers of anyone involved, but you’ll rightly expect it to swing much harder, and ultimately it ends up settling for being just barely passable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.