Hey comedy directors: when your end-credits blooper reel is funnier than the rest of your movie, you’ve failed.
Fist Fight should have at least been decent; its trailers gave me hope. It stars the high-strung, squirrelly Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) as Andy Campbell, a minds-his-own-business high school English teacher who witnesses a destructive in-class meltdown by his colleague Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube). After Campbell rats on Strickland in order to save his own job, Strickland challenges him to a fight after school on the last day before summer break.
Unfortunately, I knew I was in for a painful hour and a half within the first ten minutes of this movie. The film opens with seniors playing ridiculously extreme “pranks” that are not even remotely funny, like letting a meth-fueled horse run around the school or replacing a prized baseball bat with a laptop playing pornography. Almost all jokes fell flat—there was complete silence in the screening room for nearly the entire film. Tracy Morgan’s offbeat brand of humor was squandered as Campbell’s friend Coach Coward. He served hardly any purpose except to stand around looking clueless while his students did things like shaping a crude scene onto the grassy playing field with a lawnmower. Even worse was Jillian Bell (Office Christmas Party) as Holly, a guidance counselor who was trying to help Campbell prepare for his fight but kept getting sidetracked by her attraction to teenaged students or conversations about her drug problem. Yet another misfire came from wasting Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) in a bit role as a school security officer. Morgan, Bell and Nanjiani are naturally funny people! It actually takes effort to make them UNfunny. That pretty much sums up the overarching problem with Fist Fight.
Ice Cube was the most bearable to watch as the perpetually mad Strickland, a man who takes teaching history very, very seriously. He intimidates his co-workers and students from the second he enters a room with nothing but a look. However, I figured that writers Van Robichaux and Evan Susser were eventually going to give us some sort of insight as to why Strickland was the way he was—why he would explode at even the slightest provocation. No such luck except for a weak “teachers aren’t valued!” speech near the end.
As for Day, who worked with first-time feature director Richie Keen on the TV series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it’s not that his performance was weak, but rather that I just didn’t care about his character at all (despite the fact that he was given an overdue pregnant wife and young daughter as justification for why it was critical that he keep his job over others who had been let go in a massive, nonsensical layoff). And a profanity-laden talent show act he does with his daughter at an elementary school was painful to watch. It’s like Keen and the writers thought, “Let’s have kids say bad words—that’s always hilarious, right?!?!” No. It isn’t.
The only part of Fist Fight I semi-enjoyed was the actual fight at the very end. Aerial views of the school parking lot swarming with students as they surrounded the two dueling teachers injected some much-needed energy and raised the stakes, and there were a few POV shots that made me crack a smile. But mostly I think I just liked the fight because I knew it meant the film was almost over.
The bottom line: I wouldn’t recommend anyone pay to see Fist Fight in a theater. If you’re a huge Charlie Day or Ice Cube fan then perhaps it might be worth a rental, if for nothing else than the slightly humorous gag reel that plays over the end credits. But even that might be a poor use of a few dollars. What a disappointment.
Cast: Ice Cube (Strickland), Charlie Day (Campbell), Tracy Morgan (Coach Coward), Jillian Bell (Holly), Christina Hendricks (Miss Monet), Dean Norris (Principal Tyler)
Credits: Directed by Richie Keen. Written by Van Robichaux, Evan Susser
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
Erika Olson © February 16, 2017