By: Jason Kerin
2016 had a plethora of “comedies” released within its 12-month period. These included action comedies (Keanu and Central Intelligence), holiday themed comedies (Boo! A Madea Halloween and Office Christmas Party), summer blockbusters (Ghostbusters), more traditional R-rated comedies (Bad Moms, Boss, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), and some pretty WTF ones (Sausage Party). Some were good, some were bad, and some were just in-between. Now, with the year of 2017 already in-motion, New Line Cinema (Warner Bros. Pictures) and director Richie Keen present the first big comedy contender film of the year with the movie Fist Fight. Is this comedy worth a glance (and a few hearty laughs from you) or does something get lost within its bizarre concept?
It’s the last day of school at Roosevelt High, and teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is just hoping to survive the day, which is riddled with destructive and crude senior pranks. Facing the possibility of unemployment as the school’s faculty staff is being assessed and under review, Andy is focused on the needs of his pregnant wife Maggie (JoAnna Garcia) and his daughter Ally (Alexa Nisenson), trying to keep his teaching job secure for the foreseeable future. Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) is a fierce disciplinarian teacher at Roosevelt, who is frustrated with the school’s lack of resources and in the student’s body behavior, allowing his allowing anger to carry into the classroom, with Andy witnessing his rage. After seeing an altercation with a student, Andy, protecting his job confesses to Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) that Strickland lost his cool, which gets Strickland fired from his teaching post and inspiring the hotheaded educator to challenge his meekly colleague to a fight after the final bell rings. Panicked and unprepared to defend himself, Andy turns to others for help, trying to keep himself together as the words spread across the school, amplifying his fight with Strickland as the day progresses forward.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
The comedy film genre is a personal favorite of mine (well…. maybe after fantasy, animation, action). I mean who doesn’t like a good laugh every now and again, especially when the “blues” of reality have taken hold of you and all you need is a few moments of comedic levity. As I said, 2016 had a lot of comedy filled film, with Bad Moms and Central Intelligence being some personal favorites of mine. I remember seeing the trailers for this movie and found it hilariously, especially pitting Charlie Day against Ice Cube. However, I did have some linger doubts about this movie (most notably in its overall story premise). Still, I took a chance and went to go see the movie on its opening night. What did I think of it? Unfortunately, despite its raunchy humor, zany premise, and strong leads, Fist Fight just overall fails to be memorable, structuring a film that finds comedy, but little effort in its punchline.
Directing Fist Fight is Richie Keen, who’s previously works includes most directing TV episodes, including It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Sirens, The Comedians, and The Goldbergs. Given that background of comedy TV shows, Keen approaches Fist Fight with that notion, offering up plenty of humor that’s gear towards adults. Fans of raunchy humor and crazy sight gags will definitely take a shine to the movie’s overall comedic jokes as Keen and screenplay writers Evan Susser and Van Robichaux project a lot of gags through Fist Fight. Basically, the film’s comedy comes fast and is layered on thick. Also, the actual fight between Campbell and Strickland is pretty fun to watch and entertaining. In addition, Keen keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, keeping Fist Fight on a tighter leash than most comedic feature films (well, there’s one character that should’ve been cut, but I’ll mention that one later in the review). Presentation-wise, the movie feel like your standard comedy film, which is not a bad thing as I didn’t expect Fist Fight to be very cinematic with clever filmmaking styles and nuances. On the other hand, there are few good camera angles as well as some edits that work in the movie’s favor, thanks to Eric Alan Edwards and film editor Matthew Freund.
Unfortunately, Fist Fight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Despite its wacky premise of pitting two teachers to fight each other and being talked about for roughly two thirds of the movie, the film never quite reaches memorable status. Yes, the initial story’s plot is funny (given the movie’s parameters and the comedic actors that populate the feature), but, if you take a step back from that, the narrative story is pretty weak. In truth, Fist Fight feels like 90-minute TV comedy episode that was granted a theatrical release (as many are calling it). Also, the movie doesn’t feel challenged as it’s simply going through the motions of traveling down a well-trodden path of similar narratives. You know what I mean…. a small, feeble character goes up against a big, tough character. From there, you can summaries the rest of the story, which Fist Fight does follow, making the feature predictable and formulaic.
In addition to that, while I did enjoy some parts, Fist Fight’s humor is a bit hit or miss with its various R-rated jokes and gags sometimes hitting and other times completely missing. The movie even tries to find a moral lesson towards the third act about the importance of the lacking education system of public high school (as well as its student body behavior morale), but it just comes off as weak and forced. I know comedy movies usually try to find some type of moral heart / lesson learned message, but Fist Fight works better as its crude humor beats rather than a thought-provoking story about the public education system.
While the movie may not be as clever or innovated to standout above the rest, Fist Fight’s premise relies heavily on the performances of the two actors that were casted as Campbell and Strickland. Fortunately, Keen selected the perfect two as Charlie Day and Ice Cube basically play to their overall acting strengths in the film. Day, known for his roles in the Horrible Bosses movies as well as the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, plays Campbell as the well-meaning but neurotic character that he’s always good at playing, while Cube, known for his musical career as a rapper and the appearances in Friday, 21 Jump Street, and Boyz in the Hood, plays the hard-edge, no-nonsense, and intimating character in Strickland (a persona Cube has grown accustomed too in feature films). Both Campbell and Strickland are thinly sketched characters (nothing new or original in their story arcs), but Day and Cube handle their roles with effortless ease and definitely are funny in the respective roles. In addition, both play off one another, which does sell their dynamic and their polar opposite personalities. Thus, regardless if this movie doesn’t tickle your funny bone, both Charlie Day and Ice Cube are terrific as Fist Fight’s two main leads.
Most of the supporting cast consists of the teachers and administrators at Roosevelt High School, but, unfortunately, these characters are pretty much two-dimensional archetypes that deliver jokes and sight gags rather than being impressionable characters. Jillian Bell, known for her standout role in 22 Jump Street, leads the charge in the movie as school’s morally-dubious guidance counselor Holly (she’s definitely funny in this movie), while actor Tracy Morgan, famous from the hit TV show 30 Rock, follows behind her as the outspoken (yet no-so-competent) gym teach Coach Crawford. Other TV standouts, include Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani as the school’s security guard Mehar and Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris as the school’s principal Tyler, who both have small parts in the movie, but do bring some laughs in their particular scenes. Perhaps the weirdest and most underdeveloped character in all of Fist Fight is Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks as Roosevelt’s drama teacher Ms. Monet. She seems a bit creepy, out-of-place every time she’s on-screen and her character doesn’t really do anything in the movie. Basically, the character of Ms. Monet should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. Lastly, JoAnna Garcia and Alexa Nisenson offer up the classic personas one would expect in an R-rated comedy feature as Andy’s wife Maggie and his daughter Ally. Essentially, both are fine in their respective roles, but are more of a footnote in the movie, with only minor sub-plots to make them relevant in the film’s narrative.
It’s teacher vs. teacher (Day vs. Cube) in the build up to #teacherfight in the comedy film Fist Fight. Director Richie Keen film of pitting two teachers together on the last day of school has its amusement and its own R-rated film charm, bring a boisterous ton wacky scenarios and angst to the film’s proceedings and is aided by its two leads. Unfortunately, the movie is in short supply of substance (even for a comedy film), a bit hit or miss with its jokes and gags, predictable with its formulaic narrative, and fails to find a moral lesson within its ending. Personally, I have mixed thoughts about this. Yes, I liked Day and Cube in the movie and laughed at various scenes, but I wasn’t in love with the final product of the film. Perhaps it was for this reason why I would suggest that this movie be a rental. It’s not really worth it to see it in theaters and maybe it’s good just see it once as the movie doesn’t have a strong replay value. With plenty of other 2017 comedy films on the horizon, Fist Fight will most likely fall somewhere to the middle to lower end of the 2017 film releases spectrum. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just a “one and done” type feature that will probably fade into the background more and more as newer movies get released this year.
2.9 out of 5 (Rent It)
Fist Fight is 91 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material