Fist Fight may be as slight as a half-hour sitcom comedy, but enough of its R-Rated jokes hit their target to sustain the movie’s brisk runtime.
It’s the last day of the school year at Roosevelt High School and the students are out in full-force, pulling a series of elaborate pranks on Roosevelt’s hapless teaching staff. Mild-mannered English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is just doing his best to weather the storm, what with his pregnant wife being due to give birth soon and his job, as well as those of his peers, being up for administrative review. Unfortunately for Andy, he winds up witnessing his colleague and Roosevelt’s resident angry teacher, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), putting his foot down in a not-so-professional way after enduring one student prank too many.
After being confronted by Roosevelt’s Principal Richard Tyler (Dean Norris) with the threat of losing his job, Andy admits to witnessing Ron’s misbehavior – and despite his best efforts to smooth the situation over, gets Strickland fired as a result. Strickland, now without a job and tired of dealing with nonsense from both the student body and the school administrators, thus decides there’s only one way for he and Andy to properly settle their differences: with a fistfight in the school parking lot, at the end of the day. Can Andy get out of this looming showdown… or is he just going to have throw-down with Strickland and hope that he doesn’t get himself killed, in the process?
The R-Rated Fist Fight not only pairs actors Charlie Day and Ice Cube against one another in a raunchy comedy setting, it also juxtaposes their respective comedic personas – carefully honed through the cult hit TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and movie franchises such as Friday and most recently, Ride Along, respectively – opposite one another, for comical purposes. The resulting film isn’t exactly a substantial comedy offering nor one that has much in the way of heart (or brains), but the “Day vs. Cube” matchup proves to be more effective than less in the end. Fist Fight may be as slight as a half-hour sitcom comedy, but enough of its R-Rated jokes hit their target to sustain the movie’s brisk runtime.
Co-written by relative newcomers Evan Susser and Van Robichaux (based on a story they co-wrote with New Girl‘s Max Greenfield), Fist Fight is at most a broad, thinly-sketched satire of the modern public education system and its systematic problems. By and large, however, the issues raised in the film with school administrators and their polices serve as a backdrop to irreverent comedy sequences and uncouth jokes based around the oddball teachers, as well as the misbehaving students, that populate the high school world of Fist Fight. Whereas something like 21 Jump Street succeeds at gracefully incorporating solid character moments and thoughtful observations about the modern-day high school experience into its raunchy comedy proceedings, Fist Fight only really manages to deliver the latter – making it a funny experience to watch unfold in the moment, but also one that fades from memory quickly afterwards.
Fist Fight director Richie Keen is a longtime TV sitcom helmsman (as well as a veteran of It’s Always Sunny, as it were) and as such, takes a conventional, but sturdy approach to visualizing the film’s various comedy set pieces and scenarios as they unfold – with the occasional flourishes, for greater comedic effect. Keen, as indicated, achieves a good sense of pacing throughout the movie thanks to his collaborative efforts with Fist Fight editor Matthew Freund (Children’s Hospital), in turn keeping the cast and their improvisation on a tighter leash by modern comedy standards. There are certainly points where Fist Fight looks and feels like a glorified TV show in terms of its construction, but as a whole it’s polished enough visually to feel more like a movie than three episodes of a television series, playing back-to-back.
Charlie Day and Ice Cube aren’t stretching their acting abilities here either, playing (respectively) the well-meaning but neurotic and put-upon Mr. Cooper and hard-edged, no-nonsense, authoritarian Mr. Strickland. Nonetheless, the two handle their roles with ease in Fist Fight and play well off one another through their interactions together, making their odd couple pairing a solid one. Both Cooper and Strickland have but thinly-drawn character arcs over the course of the story here, but it’s enough to give the film a proper three-act narrative to hangs its various gags and running jokes upon. Similarly, both Day and Cube prove adept at playing the straight men opposite the film’s supporting cast – one which is populated by a surprising number of television characters actors, playing the (typically zany) teaching staff of Roosevelt High School.
Most of the teachers and administrators in Fist Fight are two-dimensional archetypes at most, but they deliver their fair share of successful jokes and generally avoid wearing out their welcome, during their onscreen appearances. Jillian Bell leads the charge in this respect as Roosevelt’s own morally-dubious student counselor Holly, while Tracy Morgan leaves a softer impression, but a welcome one with his return to live-action on the big screen, as Roosevelt’s not-so-competent Coach Crawford. TV standouts such as Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) have bit roles in Fist Fight too, though the scene-stealer among their ranks is easily Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks as Ms. Monet: a teacher with a (sorta secret) twisted side.
Irreverent and mostly silliness for its own sake, Fist Fight makes for a passable early year Hollywood comedy offering and should be the most entertaining for those moviegoers who are fans of either Ice Cube’s stick-in-the-mud tough guy act and/or Charlie Day’s well-trod, anxious comedy shtick. Fist Fight is essentially Richie Keen’s first time directing for the big screen and although it’s an unremarkable debut, Keen makes the transition from directing TV to film smoother than others before him. At the very least, Fist Fight should offer some cathartic laughs for those who are familiar with the sometimes-comically maddening experience of making a living at a high school nowadays.
Fist Fight is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 91 minutes long and is Rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material.
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