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FIST FIGHT

 

Punchless

Ice Cube
Ice Cube
Warner Brothers
 91 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Richie Keen
Starring: Ice Cube, Charlie Day
D
Fist Fight

Comedy is subjective, and there’s hardly ever been a comedian who hasn’t rubbed somebody the wrong way. But there are a few comics who are actively annoying, not insult comics like Don Rickles, but those who make audiences feel like they are listening to fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. Bobcat Goldthwait was that type of comic, and Gilbert Gottfried is the same way. Needless to say, building a movie around such a comedian is a risky proposition. The latest entry in this unenviable category (for me, at least), is Charlie Day, a man whose whiny, sniveling persona finds its way into his film work, as in the Horrible Bosses movies. Fist Fight, the latest juvenile, R-rated, raunch comedy would have been a mediocre movie in any event; with Day as the lead, even at 90 minutes, it’s nearly unendurable.

 

Fist Fight is another in a depressingly long line of comedies set in high school, but which seems to have been written by foul mouthed middle-school students based on what their perceptions of high school life might eventually be like. It’s the final day of class at Roosevelt High School, a day that has been traditionally dubbed Senior Prank Day. In actuality, the day is more like a junior version of The Purge with sadistic morons being given free rein to commit virtually any act of cruelty or vandalism without repercussion. Among the “hilarious” pranks they pull are feeding meth to a horse that runs amok in the school corridors and mowing phallic symbols into the football field. While this is going on, the school principal (Dean Norris) is pulling a prank of his own on the faculty: mass, money-saving layoffs.

 

While most of the teachers suffer these indignities in relative silence, history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) uses a fire ax in his attempt to instill some discipline in the class. Strickland’s antics, which involve smashing a particularly odious student’s desk to bits while he’s seated, come to the attention of the principal, and Strickland asks meek English teacher Andy Campbell (Day), who witnessed the incident, to cover for him. Unfortunately for Strickland, Campbell is afraid of losing his job too, so he panics and rats Strickland out. An enraged Strickland challenges Campbell to a fist fight after school at 3:00. Campbell accepts, then spends the rest of the movie trying to figure a way out of his dilemma.

 

Those with fond memories of 1980’s high school films may note a similarity between Fist Fight and Three O’Clock High, a similarly themed 1987 film that involved a similar after-school fight challenge (the showdowns in both films even take place at the same time). The difference between the two films is that the pugilists in Three O’Clock High were actual students. My guess is that whoever greenlighted Fist Fight thought that teachers going through the same manhood ritual would somehow be funny. It’s not; nor is much of anything else in the film.

 

Nearly every adult character in Fist Fight is either ill-conceived, miscast, or both. The worst miscasting, of course, is Day, who spends the middle third of the film frantically concocting ways to get out of the fight, ranging from bribing the student who accused Strickland to getting himself and Strickland arrested on drug charges. Most of his efforts, however, involve trying to fast talk his way out of trouble. Not surprisingly, these efforts are doomed to failure, and, even less surprisingly, the more frantic Campbell gets, the more whiny and annoying he becomes. By the time the actual fight rolled around (yes, there is a fight), I was hoping against hope that Strickland plastered the floor with Campbell.

 

While Charlie Day is the worst culprit in Fist Fight, he’s far from the only one. Christina Hendricks plays a two-joke teacher, the first being the same joke that follows her around in every role and involves horny high schoolers drooling over her anatomy, and the second being that she’s real handy with a knife and would love to slice Campbell to bits. I have no idea why anyone would find the second joke funny or why anyone over the age of an actual high school student would find the first joke funny. Faring even worse is Jillian Bell, stuck in a thankless role as a guidance counselor who delights in seducing her students. Tracy Morgan is wasted as the school’s football coach, but, at least, it’s great to see him working again, even in dreck like Fist Fight. Ice Cube comes off best, almost by default, because he’s had lots of practice recently playing the peeved straight man opposite Kevin Hart, so Fist Fight is no great stretch.

 

The fatal coup de grace in the movie is the climactic battle between Campbell and Strickland. I’m guessing that director Richie Keen, who is making his feature film debut here, was at a loss whether to try to craft a credible scenario for a semblance of a balanced fight or simply to play the whole thing for laughs, so he “compromised,” and the result is a fight filled with unfunny slapstick, unconvincing slow motion, and completely unbelievable action, all running on and on, well past the time of the slightest audience interest.

 

Fist Fight is not a total disaster, but, surprisingly that’s due to the efforts of the smallest and least well known member of the cast. Ten-year-old Alexa Nisenson plays Campbell’s daughter Ally and easily steals every scene she is in. Her subplot is very familiar: she’s upset that Campbell is too busy to help her on her big project, in this case, the elementary school talent contest for which he helped choreograph her dance routine. And its resolution is equally familiar, with Campbell racing to get to both the talent show and his fight. But Day and Nisenson have great chemistry together, and, in the movie’s only bit of inspiration, her routine happens to be a rap song laden with F-bombs directed at her snotty classmate. This is the only vulgarity in the movie that proves genuinely funny.

 

Other than those inspired five minutes of pre-teen rapping, the rest of Fist Fight leaves the audience feeling as if it has been punched in the face repeatedly. Virtually every crude joke imaginable is crammed into the movie, and the attempt at social relevance by questioning the efficacy of firing teachers to improve the bottom line is undercut by the obvious fact that, at Roosevelt High, the teachers probably all deserved firing for producing a group of morons like the students portrayed. If there is any cinematic justice, anyone wasting good money by paying to see this mess should at least get the satisfaction of seeing a couple of the studio executives who greenlit this project forced to engage in their own fist fight.

In this scene, Tracy Morgan tries to give Charlie Day some advice about boxing.

Read other reviews of Fist Fight:

 

Fist Fight (2017) on IMDb

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