Ah those halcyon days where the school bully gets in trouble because of the school wimp and the bully challenges the wimp to a fight. In Fist Fight the spin is that the two in question aren’t students but teachers. The wimp wants to get out of it, but his efforts only makes things worse for himself. The bully is pretty much just the bully throughout, and about seventy minutes later we get the fight as promised. That’s about it for the plot arc for this particular film, but then you weren’t really expecting much depth here, were you?
Penned by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, both of whom have had little enough experience writing for the big or small screen, having worked on a project called What’s Going On? with Mike Mitchell for FX back in 2011 which never got picked up. So while there’s been plenty of times where newcomers knock it out of the park, this isn’t one of those times.
Ice Cube, fresh from xXX: Return of Xander Cage comes in as the hardline teacher Ron Strickland, keeping his students in line through barely-controlled anger-management issues that would have made Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman proud. In the other corner, we have Charlie Day as Andy Campbell, the English teacher, who stereotypically fills the role of school wimp and pushover (albeit with Joanna Garcia as Maggie, Andy’s far too beautiful wife to be with this spineless wimp).
It’s the last day of school and the seniors (as well as everyone else) is running amok with pranks. In the midst of the chaos, the school administration is going through a round of layoffs, calling in teachers on the last day and keeping and firing various individuals more or less at random. Andy goes into Ron’s classroom where his own students are messing with him via smartphone-enabled remote controls causing the film he’s trying to show to keep stopping. Can we point out here that one of the jokes revolves around Ron still having to use a VCR and an old CRT television to show movies, and the kids are using an iPhone to mess with it – both the TV and VCR use infrared, their phones don’t – but then reality isn’t a strong suit in this script. In the midst of the back and forth with the kids, Ron loses it, grabs a fire axe and beats a kid’s desk to pieces. They get dragged into the office, where Ron insists on holding to a code of silence, while Andy tells on him. This gets Ron fired, and Andy demands retribution by having a fight at the end of the school day.
So there you have it, Andy runs around for an hour – seeking advice from probably the worst school counselor ever in Jillian Bell as Counselor Holly, and Tracy Morgan as Coach Crawford (who is proud of the school’s tradition of losing at any sporting event they participate in), then the fight kicks off.
The film is a comedy, and there’s a few laughs between start and finish. Some of the audience in the screening I was in really seemed to be enjoying themselves, so some folks will evidentially find it funny, but I found it mostly halfhearted at best. The kind of laughs that you might get from the local community theater doing an improv night. Here they’ve got a skilled cast, but the best they’re given is meth jokes. It really does have the vibe of a group of bottom run screenwriting students being given detention ala Breakfast Club but during their Saturday they spend it coming up with a script lampooning their teachers – the result being that it’s funny mostly only to them. How do you have so many opportunities for creative pranks from the students, but none of them elicit laughs. I will say that beyond the bully-glorification routine, the film at least isn’t full of gross humor, it’s just lacking in good humor.
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