Starring: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell
Director: Richie Keen
Running Time: 91 mins
Synopsis: Weak willed pushover teacher Andy Campbell (Day) is facing the last day of school term with the potential of losing his job due to staff cutbacks. Seeing an opportunity to save his skin, he gets fellow teacher Ron Strickland (Cube) fired after witnessing one of his rage-filled student attacks. However Strickland won’t let that lie and challenges Andy to an after-school fist fight!
Fist Fight is an odd comedy. Its concept is extremely flimsy, focusing on a wuss teacher (Day, quieter than his usual loud schtick) as he has to prepare to fight fellow teacher Strickland over getting him fired. Barely filling out its scant 90 min runtime, it manages to reach a surprisingly honest and heartfelt ending. Although it doesn’t begin well. Slow to kick in any real laughs and with a rather unlikable lead character. Not through any fault of Day, but a script that over-eggs his weak-willed nature to the extent of making him a slog to watch.
Ice Cube offers some much needed fire with his perpetually angry Ron Strickland. A teacher who favours telling it like is and punishment via abuse, he offers a nice counterpoint to the pushover nature of Andy. It also provides a suitably clever nod to the endless debate over how much control teachers should be given over our kids, and one the film surprisingly keeps a focus on through to its final moments. As this is the final day of the school year there is mayhem around, as prank after prank befalls the faculty. Although the level of these defies some sense of belief, could students in middle school really afford to pay for some of the more outlandish pranks involved? One such hijink causes Strickland to go all postal over one student in front of Andy. Subsequently sat down in front of Dean Norris’s dryly angry Principal, who is suffering the most from this chaos (one joke involving a Mariachi band is particularly inspired). Andy decides to protect his job by putting his fellow teacher in the firing line.
Not to accept this lying down Strickland challenges Andy to a mano a mano fight. From here the film focuses on Andy’s cowardly attempts to get out of the battle. Sadly his fellow teachers are not much help. Tracy Morgan makes his screen return after his unfortunate accident as P.E teacher Crawford and is a tempered but decent presence. Jillian Bell is a fun delight as a student counsellor who perhaps gets a little caught up in her students lives, particularly the hot ones (if you know what I mean), although like the film as a whole she thinks dick jokes are a lot funnier than they actually are, especially after the 5th or 6th joke. The best side character by far is Kumail Nanjiani as the on-site security guard, taking his job far too seriously (but only in school hours) and featuring in one drug search scene that snags on the funny bone with his deadpan comebacks.
Comedic legend (and yes if you’ve seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia he is a legend) Charlie Day is the weakest link here, until the final much more enjoyable act. Finally gaining a semblance of a backbone, by way of an unexpectedly sweary daddy-daughter talent show, he shows some of that firecracker uncontrollable manic energy that he does so well. The inevitable final fight, and with a title like Fist Fight of course the punch-up will go ahead, is effectively full-on and choreographed to maximise the comedic brutality of it all.
It’s no surprise to see that lessons are learnt and relationships are formed come the end, but the film has at least some pertinent points to make about trusting our teachers to know what is best for our kids, and giving them the tools to do so. It may hit you over the head with them but they are at least noble messages for a comedy to give. It’s just a pity they are married to a comedy that sometimes forgets to bring the funny.
Verdict: Slight and flimsy to the point that it will be gone from your mind as soon as it arrives, but a likeable cast, effective message and fun final act will leave a decent smile upon your face.