Fist Fight is directed by Richie Keen and stars Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, and Christina Hendricks.
I fondly remember there being exactly two times during 2017 thus far in which I saw a trailer for a new release and said to myself, "That concept's not going work. What are they thinking?" If you need to know anything about movies, it's that it's all about the execution. You can take a lot of movies and break them down to their most naked concept, and they will seem utterly ridiculous. But when the execution part is done well enough, no one will give a damn anymore about how ridiculous the movie's concept may sound. There are very rare cases, however, in which a movie's concept is futile; the concept is simply incapable of being executed in any meaningful way. We have gotten two such movies in 2017. The first and most obvious one is Sony's The Emoji Movie. The second? Richie Keen's Fist Fight, a movie whose entire execution based possibilities revolve around a fist fight. But it's not like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are getting into a boxing ring and settling their differences. This is a fist fight between two high school teachers, one a hardcore, no-nonsense smack-talker and the other a mild-mannered wimp. Oh, then that must mean it's a story about standing up to bullies...right?
It's the last day of school at Roosevelt High School in Atlanta, Georgia. The students are devising various senior pranks, causing mayhem everywhere throughout the school. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and his fellow faculty members are doing whatever it takes to survive the day. The only teacher capable of making the students behave is history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube). On top of the senior pranks, the school is pulling aside all of its teachers for individual meetings throughout the day to discuss the possibility of the school downsizing its departments, meaning that teachers and some of the other faculty are likely to be laid off. This leaves Campbell incredibly nervous, because his wife (JoAnna Garcia) is nearly due for their second child. During one of his classes, Strickland finds Campbell in the hallway and asks for help with an outdated AV system that keeps mysteriously turning off after a few seconds. Campbell realizes that one of the students named Neil (Austin Zajur) is responsible for the TV shutting off, and Strickland becomes enraged enough that he grabs a fire axe and destroys Neil's desk. Campbell and Strickland are then brought to Principal Tyler's (Dean Norris) office to discuss what happened. Principal Tyler threatens to fire both Campbell and Strickland if neither comes forward with the truth. Campbell comes forward with the truth, and Strickland loses his job as a result. Strickland retaliates by challenging Campbell to a fist fight in the school parking lot at the end of the day, to which Campbell refuses. But the news of Strickland's challenge spreads like wildfire around the school and the local community, leaving Campbell with no choice but to man up and take Strickland on.
It doesn't take long to realize that Fist Fight has basically nowhere to go once the fight is official. The majority of the film is nothing but Charlie Day panicking and doing various things around the school to try and weasel his way out of the fight. Screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser make it seem like they were thinking things up on the fly, because the entire movie struggles to keep itself occupied until the fist fight can finally happen. Campbell's efforts in getting out of the fight include getting Neil to lie for him to Principal Tyler so that Strickland can get his job back and hiding drugs in Strickland's bag in an attempt to get Strickland arrested. Way too late does the script decide to have Campbell finally decide to man up and stop taking crap from Strickland and the other students, leaving us with an unconvincing sense of completion for Campbell's character arc.
It's a common thing for movies to be based around an eventual showdown between two or more opposing characters. Batman v Superman is titled as so because it's a movie that builds its way up to an eventual battle between Batman and Superman, with each superhero going through different motions that will inevitably bring them together. Conversely, Fist Fight is about one man's "journey" towards a confrontation that will change his life for the better, but that one man, Andy Campbell, spends too much of the film's 91 minutes being a complete coward, killing any and all chances that the movie might have in building up momentum for its titular fist fight. And let me not forget to mention how we must also endure an endless series of lazy and often downright cruel jokes and "humorous" encounters that drag on and on without end.
- Ice Cube is his normal, macho self, which is more often than not a welcome sight.
- The fight between Campbell and Strickland is actually quite amusing. It starts in the parking lot and eventually transitions its way into the school building. Campbell eventually starts utilizing various objects such as a tennis racket and a fire extinguisher to temporarily get the upper hand on Strickland, but as the tougher, more muscular man, Strickland always has the edge. If only the movie had built up to its fight better...
- Charlie Day is incredibly irritating, constantly yelping in a high-pitched voice, and it grows old very quickly. I suppose if you're an avid fan of Charlie Day screeching, then this is the movie event of the year for you. For everyone else, it's an endless barrage of squawking about how he doesn't want to fight. Your ears would puke if they were able to.
- Basically none of the jokes land, but the worst part is how utterly cruel a bunch of them are. Campbell gets frequent help from guidance counselor Miss Holly (Jillian Bell), who talks constantly about how she feels attracted to some of the students and thinks about having sex with them. I'm not sure exactly where the humor is within social conversations about a female adult having sex with high school students, because that's more likely to offend people who work in education as opposed to make them laugh their heads up. Campbell also calls out a student as being gay, a bad joke that allows me the chance to apologize to all of the LGBTQ students out there for having a cruel joke like Campbell's slip in somehow. There's also recurring pranks to suggest that the students have a bizarre obsession with penises, most evident in how two students mow the football field to make the grass look like a giant penis. Oh yeah, and then they mow the grass to display female breasts too, because, you know, just talking about and showing genitalia is so hilarious. It's spineless humor that has no wit or creativity to it whatsoever, and I can confidently say that I failed to legitimately laugh one time during Fist Fight.
If someone is to walk up to me and say, "Comedy is alive and well in movies today." I would proceed to laugh in that person's face before I fall over backwards and bust my sides from laughing so much. Horror has it bad nowadays, but comedy has it much worse. There may be a few rare comedic gems that spring up a few times every year, but those gems are overshadowed by the likes of Fist Fight, a movie with a concept that goes nowhere fast, wasting the comedic talent of good ol' Ice Cube. It's a movie that passes off cruelty as humorous, and is some of the most recent proof as to the kind of schlock that Hollywood has the audacity to label as comedy.
And if you somehow sit through Fist Fight, you might come away thinking that the movie is trying to be a satirical outlook on the public school system, to which I cry bull crap. The most that Fist Fight has to offer is a mildly interesting fist fight, but there's quite a lot for you to endure if you want to get there. The only loser of Fist Fight is us, the audience, as the movie punches you square in the face with a fistful of unfunny jokes, laughing as we sit there crying, knowing that 91 precious minutes of our lives have been taken away.
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