A film review by Craig J. Koban February 26, 2017


2017, R, 93 mins.


Ice Cube as Strickland  /  Charlie Day as Campbell  /  Christina Hendricks as Miss Monet  /  JoAnna Garcia as Maggie  /  Jillian Bell as Counselor Holly  /  Dean Norris as Principal Richard Tyler  /  Tracy Morgan as Coach Freddie Coward  /  Kym Whitley as 911 Operator  /  Kumail Nanjiani as Officer Mehar

Directed by Richie Keen  /  Written by Evan Susser and Van Robichaux



This film most certainly is not engaging in false advertising of any kind whatsoever.  

It does indeed feature a fight involving fists (and other objects capable of inflicting pain).  On those levels, the very specifically titled FIST FIGHT delivers on its promises.   

Sarcasm aside, the film is also a very loose remake of the very underrated high school comedy THREE O'CLOCK HIGH, which in turn was a sly update of the western HIGH NOON, leaving FIST FIGHT rounding off a feat of remake-ception.  Now, FIST FIGHT preserves the high school setting and themes of its most direct antecedent, but this time it's a couple of teachers that partake in the titular battle, not students.  

Now, as a man that once trained to become a high school teacher, I can positively state for the record that what transpires in FIST FIGHT doesn't occupy a normal plane of earth-bound reality.  This film is less a wacky farcical comedy than it is pure nonsensical science fiction.  That, and it's painfully unfunny and off-puttingly mean spirited to boot, which makes embracing its would-be hilarious zaniness exceedingly difficult. 



The film contains the flimsiest excuse for an overall plot, flimsy in the sense that it abandons any pretence of subversively dealing with the material in a satiric manner and instead goes for the crude, lewd, and aggressively potty mouth variety of humor.  What you need to know is essentially this: The film takes place at one horribly under-financed and supported inner city school during one particular day from beginning to end.  Cutbacks and terminations are on the horizon, leaving most of the teaching faculty deeply concerned for their respective futures and well being.  One in particular is English teacher Mr. Campbell (a very Charlie Day-ian character played by Charlie Day), who's petrified that he'll be on the occupational chopping block, a frightening thought seeing as he's about to become a father for the second time. 

Seeing as this film's school day in question is the last day of the year, students have been running rampant with pranks - one involving a giant ejaculating penis drawn on the football field - and some of the teachers have had enough.  One of them at his wit's end is Mr. Strickland (a very Ice Cube-ian character played by Ice Cube) that gets so bitter at one kid's prank during his History class that he takes an axe (not making this up) and smashes the shocked student's desk in front of him.  Unfortunately for Mr. Campbell, he witnessed this horrendous indiscretion, leaving him in the ethical position of reporting Strickland to the principal (Dean Norris).  When both of them are dragged into his office - and with the imposing Strickland threatening Campbell to keep his yapper shut - both of their jobs are threatened.  Campbell relents and rats out Strickland.  Now, Strickland is so incensed by Campbell's betrayal that he matter-of-factly informs him that he will fight him - whether he wants to or not - after school at 3 pm. 

Again, the underlining premise of struggling educators working within a decaying system that has deteriorated so poorly that it reduces them to petty fisticuffs would have made for a potentially riotous piece of social commentary.  Alas, FIST FIGHT is never once compelled into intelligently examining this material for proper satiric effect and opts to pull out all the stops as a belligerently raunchy, hard R-rated comedy of unending debauchery.  I'm no cinematic prude.  I'm really not.  Some of my favorite comedies of all time have been dirty minded.  FIST FIGHT, regrettably, is yet another in a long line of witless and puerile comedies that mistake crassness and volume with hilarity...and wastes an amply game and talented cast in the process.  Every single solitary character on display here - from young students, to teachers, to principals, and even - in one specifically vile scene - a 10-year-girl lash out with multiple iterations of the F-bomb like it was going out of style.  Vulgar words are great when they're used to accentuate a joke or gag, but they're criminally unfunny when used as the primary source of generating laughter.  Why does Hollywood think that viewers want to hear characters of all ages scream out dirty words at their top of their lungs as the only outlet for comedy?  The aforementioned scene involving that girl (all during a talent competition) didn't make me laugh at all...it made me sink into my theater seat in despair and misery. 

And it's not just the tasteless barrage of language that makes this (sarcastic air quotes) "comedy" more teeth grating to sit through as it progresses.  FIST FIGHT is in love with penis and masturbation gags, which figure in heavily within its first twenty minutes.  Beyond that, it also finds sexual predatory humor hysterical.  One character, a guidance counselor (Jillian Bell), is a duplicitous minded confidant of Campbell that really, really loves drugs (crystal meth in particular), but also expresses a rancorous sexual appetite for sleeping with students.  She stalks one of the senior jocks and lusts at the possibility of getting laid by him.  This is not funny.  Not...in...the...slightest.  It's nauseating.  But in the fictionalized lal la land that is FIST FIGHT the writers sure as hell think that a teacher that is a disturbing sexual deviant is a riot.   


Charlie Day is a perplexing actor.  He has an agreeably dweeby quality that makes him likeable, but he often resorts to hyperactive performance flourishes that makes many of his characters (Campbell here included) more insufferable than endearing and relatable.  Ice Cube fares a bit better in the film, seeing as he's capable of using his ultra mean poker faced mug to amusing effect (he generated some of the best laughs in the 21 JUMP STREET films that worked off of his hostility).  Ice Cube's unrelenting presence as an intimidating presence is on stellar display in FIST FIGHT, seeing as he made me laugh as an unwavering figure of hot-headed aggression.  Granted, how a teacher so deplorably deranged would have made it in the education system as long as he apparently did is one of FIST FIGHT'S glaring oversights.  I don't think there's been a more frightening school teacher in a film before. 

FIST FIGHT generates a bit of a pulse when it unleashes (NON-SPOILER ALERT!) its climatic fist fight in question, and the film shows some creativity in plausibly showing how Campbell would be able to last more that ten seconds in school yard street brawl with Strickland.  Frustratingly, though, FIST FIGHT wants to be a broad comedy and a message film that speaks out about the struggles of modern teachers in a downtrodden education system.  This film is unintentionally hilarious in the way it wants to have its cake and eat it too.  FIST FIGHT is a punishing endurance test to endure (at a mercifully short 90 minutes, it often felt like 900).  Trying to ground this over-the-top high school microcosm with an underlining and sobering message about the trials and tribulations of real teachers in the real world doesn't do this film any favors.  Grasps at thematic sincerity (not to mention creating an ending that neatly wraps everything up with a positive bow on top) never once feels credibly earned in FIST FIGHT...especially for a film as filled with as many cock and balls gags as this one.   


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