Review: Fist Fight
If Fist Fight opened with “Charlie Gets Challenged to a Fist Fight” in the iconic white font that opens each episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it would have passed for an extended episode of the series. Charlie Day, who continues to provide consistent laughs in the hit series, is not convincing in the slightest as a high-school English teacher, but instead feels like Charlie Kelly pretending to be one. Still, in a movie in which Ice Cube plays a high-school history teacher who curses out the students, breaks their cell phones, and takes axes to their desks, it's hardly an issue.
Here, Day plays Andy Campbell, a well-mannered, timid English teacher who wants his students to learn while also doing nothing to enforce his authority. Ice Cube plays Ron Strickland, a History teacher who is Campbell's direct antithesis. He has a reputation, characters citing his previous occupations before his gig as teacher, which may or may not include being a gang member and/or assassinating terrorists. Needless to say, Strickland's intense teaching style and shady history fills everyone in the school, students and faculty, with intimidation. As both teachers endure a wealth of well-thought out and rapid-paced senior pranks (involving paint, penises, and horses), the last day of school proves to be a significantly bad day for Campbell, who, after a series of events, is challenged to a fist fight in the parking lot after school with the hostile Strickland.
The film plays out exactly how you would expect. Campbell does everything in his power to avoid this confrontation, from paying off students to speaking with the principal in an effort to get Strickland's job back. Nearly every other thing that would occupy a movie like this is present. There's the grouchy principal (Dean Norris), the goofy foreign security guard (played quite hilariously by Kumail Nanjiani), a horny guidance counselor (Jillian Bell), an offbeat football coach (Tracy Morgan), and even a femme fatale French crazy lady with a knife and black dress (Christina Hendricks). Oh, and of course, Andy's wife is pregnant, his daughter expects him to be at her talent show immediately after school, adding much needed (and cliched) complications to give his character the motivation he would be lacking otherwise.
Surprisingly, the talent show arc results in one of the film's funniest scenes, and it was a relief to see the script not take it into the most conventional tear-jerking territory that usually accompanies these types of movies. I won't spoil it, but it got the most laughs out of my audience, and I even found myself laughing more than any other scene in the entirety of the film's running time.
Up until then, it's just an R-rated, 90-minute of episode of Sunny, watching Charlie adjust to his life after being challenged to a fist fight, turning to his faculty and students for help instead of Dennis and the Gang. And while it isn't as funny as the show, Fist Fight isn't without its laughs. Most of them come from Ice Cube, who has been enjoying his spot in the American comedy scene since writing and starring in F. Gary Gray's Friday in the 90s. The former N.W.A. member continues to be a hit with audiences, with franchises like Ride Along and the Jump Street films being his most notable successes of late (one of which is actually good). Here, Ice Cube is good at being Ice Cube, and that's never really a bad thing. Amidst all of the script's bad jokes that fall flat and its to be painfully unfunny (and believe me, a majority of it is just that), it's still a delight to see Ice Cube doing what he does best.
The script, which severely struggles to stretch its contents out to a 90-minute movie, sometimes drags on, moving characters to different places just for the sake of extending its running time. This is most evident in a scene in the latter half of the movie involving a jail, which adds nothing to the movie and could've been cut entirely with nothing in the film's timeline being altered one bit (it's probably around fifteen minutes).
Fist Fight's finale is good, and this isn't just regarding the inevitable showdown that occurs. The motivation behind Ice Cube's character, while laughable in a movie this silly, doesn't hit as well as the movie thinks it does, but the way the characters resolve their issues is quite tender and nice (which isn't to say that the film doesn't live up to its titular promise).
And don't get me started on that talent show scene. (Find a babysitter for this one, parents.)