FIST FIGHT ½
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.
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
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.
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.