I’m so glad I brought a punching bag with me into the theater on Friday to vent out my frustration with this film. This half-cocked film, “Fist Fight,” presents a bizarre premise riddled with superfluous F-bombs and disappointing, crass jokes that recur with no landing punchline.
It’s Roosevelt High’s last day of school, and all the seniors go ape-shit pulling nasty and obnoxious pranks on the teachers and faculty. Amidst the farcical storm of jejune dick jokes, horny teens in restroom stalls and an incredibly understaffed group of nutty colleagues, mild-mannered English teacher, Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), is just trying to be the nice guy on campus when, in reality, he’s the pushover of his class. But not all teachers are laughingstocks amongst students, for Ice Cube’s character, austere, no-bullshit history teacher Mr. Ron Strickland, doesn’t hesitate to rain down a fire axe in front of his students when his patience wears thin — which, frankly, puts into question how he became a high school educator in the first place. Stumbling upon this axe-rage mishap, Campbell breaks an ostensible rapprochement between all teachers: Never snitch on another teacher. He gets Strickland fired on account of saving his own job amongst a massive school budget cut but is then challenged into a (spoiler alert) fist fight by Strickland. One lesson to learn from this film is that actions have consequences. Campbell’s apparent consequence is to get pummeled by a raving, hyper-violent lunatic in need of anger management, and mine was to bear through a sophomoric plot which induced my preexisting unhappiness. I think I had it worse.
With several ace comedians casted, the movie shouldn’t have adhered to mediocre gags which then shoddily evolved into a cartoon program. Rather than utilizing their comic talents, the film’s majority is laced with sloppy ad-libs and irreverent shenanigans as Campbell desperately scrambles to back out of the fight through bribing, blackmailing and drug-planting Strickland’s possessions.
Day is an exceptional comedian especially when it comes to playing the neurotic, idiosyncratic role. However, in this film, portraying the straight man seems to restrain him from hashing out his iconic, scrappy and outlandish schtick that normally spotlights him at his maximum panache. Perhaps he was attempting to reach for more versatile characters, but his out-and-out hilarity derives from being an unfiltered goofball, not an insipid school teacher. Ice Cube, once again, plays a heightened version of Ice Cube with minimal character arc — I imagine directors just making him glare menacingly into the camera lens until everyone on set starts to feel uncomfortable and someone yells, “Cut.”
Nonetheless, the two actors did a decent job by mixing and matching their opposite characterizations with one another. Despite this, it becomes difficult to care about such outrageous characters and their trivial dispute because the script seemed to forbid any convincing rapport or comedic flare between the two.
Beside the protagonists, the rest of the faculty madcaps, played by Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Kumail Nanjiani, appear every so often to deliver obscene lines and to show indifference to crudeness despite being authority figures, which I analyzed as loose satire against the messed-up public school system. But even though the subliminal message was meant to be noticed, some of the distasteful lines forced out of these characters made me wince too much to care about the flaws of American education.
In particular, one cringing moment branded in my mind was when Morgan’s character was lightly sprayed with yellow paint, and it looked like the comedian was pushed to reference a half-assed one-liner, “I look like a minion!” My palm connected to my face. To put it plainly, the gimmicks were not comedy gold, but the cast certainly has immense potential as proven in their previous quality works. It would have been a passable movie if only the actors were handed better written material to play off of, or if they had simply documented an actual UFC-fashioned fist fight between the real cast members.
Rather than a blockbuster, the movie felt like a stretched-out sitcom, which could have been the influence of debut film director, Richie Keen, who is actually a long-time director of FXX’s TV series, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” As an avid viewer of this show, I believe “Fist Fight” would be more apt as an episode on the small screen since it follows the caricature of zany characters and wacky storylines. Each character felt one-dimensional and over-the-top when displayed within a time constraint on the big screen, but I think setting a long-standing sitcom that spoofs a raunchy school environment could wire better social statement and dialogue between an adept and whimsical group.
For the most part, “Fist Fight” is cheap entertainment for you to switch off to. In the end, according to this movie, violence and profanity are rewarded and all (yes, all) high school students are little licentious, pranking scumbags. Between all the beatdowns I’ve witnessed, movie-wise, I’d say the moment leading up to this specific battle was somewhat anticipated. So actually, I might even prefer this showdown between a pugnacious Ice Cube and an agitated Day over the Batman versus Superman brawl any day.