Fist Fight (2017)
After school. Parking lot. It’s on.
Fist Fight isn’t subversive, clever or even remotely original, the whole thing just a crude, mean-spirited pro-bullying advertisement, one that paints brutality and violence as the only solution to workplace blight. Loosely inspired by the 1987 teen movie Three O’Clock High, which sees a dweeby kid, Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) having to face-off against a burly delinquent Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson) come three o’clock — the former challenging the latter to a duel after he accidentally invades his space — Fist Fight pits two high school teachers against one another, the mild-mannered English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) versus the perpetually angry History teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube).
It’s the last day of school at Roosevelt High, which means that it’s Senior Prank Day, a tradition that sees the school’s nasty, disrespectful students stage a number of cruel, elaborate pranks on the staff — you know, all the ‘funny’ stuff like destroying property (and the principle’s car), drawing offensive pictures on the board, even physically hurting and humiliating their teachers (shtick that, in reality, would actually prevent these kids from graduating). Enter Mr. Andy Campbell, a new-age English teacher whose supportive wife, Maggie (JoAnna Garcia), is expecting their second child. Trying to keep it together, Andy finds himself in the thick of it as he attempts to simultaneously avoid malicious booby traps and the untimely faculty layoffs that Principal Richard Tyler (Dean Norris) has abruptly announced.
After a sniveling, slime-ball of a student, Neil (Austin Zajur), plays a technological prank on the unhinged Mr. Strickland, he attacks the kid with an axe, this outburst shocking Campbell, who (desperate to save his position) rats on Strickland, the aforementioned loosing his job as a result. With Strickland now fired, the intimidating brute challenges Campbell to a fistfight in the parking lot at the end of the school day to settle the score, with news of the extra-curricular clash spreading through the community like wildfire — hashtag teacher fight! (Why’s the film called Fist Fight then?)
Penned by a couple of rookie writers, Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, Fist Fight feels very pedestrian, with director Richie Keen — who hails from a background in television — relying too heavily on cheap set-ups and convenient misunderstandings, these used to propel the plot, while improvisation, f-bombs and penis jokes make up the bulk of the ‘comedy,’ the film catering to the lowest common denominator. With that said, there are a couple of funny sequences. The first alludes to Strickland’s mysterious past (was he a former soldier who fought in Iraq? An ex-cop? Or a master pianist) — this secrecy, while amusing, most likely inserted to cover up Strickland’s sheer lack of characterization. The second is a well-staged ‘mediation’ between Campbell and Strickland that takes place in a model U.N. room that, for some unknown reason, is set up at the school. What about the fight itself? Sure, it’s okay if you get your kicks out of watching two grown mean beat the living crap out of one another, just like the hundreds of bloodthirsty onlookers frothing at the mouth.
Look, here’s the thing, it’s ‘apparently’ suggested that Strickland uses the whole ‘fight’ as a guise to get people to notice the rotting state of the public education system (yeah, right), however, if the guy truly cared about the school’s funding and so forth, he wouldn’t be smashing up tables or bookcases whenever he gets wound up. Furthermore, Campbell’s ‘snitching’ is depicted as questionable, even if any sane person would’ve done the exact same thing (given Strickland’s hyper-aggression) and gotten him booted, regardless of his authoritarian control over the students. Alas, as Campbell’s story arc develops, this rather nice guy who believes in ‘talking’ through issues becomes more and more like Cube’s Strickland, the film claiming that the only way to defeat a bully is to become one yourself.
Performance-wise, Fist Fight lacks punch, despite its bold ‘odd couple’ pair-up. Ice Cube, 22 Jump Street (2014), basically snarls and growls his way through the flick as the thinly drawn Mr. Strickland, whose immense rage is barely explained, while the kinetic Charlie Day, Horrible Bosses (2011), spends the majority of the movie running around like a headless chook, his character, Mr. Campbell, doing whatever he can to dodge the titular bare-knuckle clash.
In terms of support players, Fist Fight features an assembly of distasteful, offensive staff member caricatures. Jillian Bell, 22 Jump Street (2014), portrays Holly, a detestable meth-addicted guidance counselor who openly talks about taking drugs and lusting after various students, hilarious, whilst Tracy Morgan, Cop Out (2010), embodies Coach Crawford, a gym teacher too stupid to realize that he’s being punked by a pair of bratty seniors. Then there’s Christina Hendricks, Bad Santa 2 (2016), as Miss Monet, a butterfly-knife-wielding drama teacher whose only function is to threaten Campbell, whom she believes is a pervert. Elsewhere, Breaking Bad (2008) star Dean Norris does his best as the strained Principal Tyler, the headmaster tormented by a mariachi band that’s been hired to follow him around all day — another of the film’s implausible pranks, seeing as visitors need a pass to enter school grounds, so I have no idea who let the band inside the gates. Lastly, Kumail Nanjiani, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016), manages to get a couple of laughs as Mehar, Roosevelt’s on-campus security guard who refuses to get involved in anything outside of his jurisdiction after 3pm.
There’s a scene towards the end of Fist Fight that sees Charlie Day’s Campbell rush to aid his young daughter Ally (Alexa Nisenson) as she performs at her grade school’s daddy-daughter talent show, the pair performing an R-rated Big Sean song that features a slew of profanity, the scene supposedly highlighting the morals of winning at any cost. I’m surprised that the Screen Actors Guild (of America) actually allowed the young actress to film the scene! This brings me to my final point. Yes, Fist Fight can be amusing and even a little fun at times, but it’s the flick’s underlining ugliness that got to me, Fist Fight best likened to watching a bully resort to demeaning dialogue in order to win an argument — No Class!
1.5 / 5 – Poor
Reviewed by Mr. Movie