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Review: Fist Fight (2017)

Fist Fight (2017)

Directed by: Richie Keen

Premise: Set in a high school on the last day of the school year, a meek English teacher (Charlie Day) evades senior pranks and plans to attend his daughter’s talent recital. He crosses a hotheaded history instructor (Ice Cube) who challenges the English teacher to a fight.

What Works: Fist Fight has a good group of actors. The film is led by Charlie Day as an emasculated English teacher and Day does his usual distressed beta male shtick. Day has a way of being pathetic without becoming obnoxious and he’s a good pick for this role. Day’s timid screen presence contrasts with Ice Cube as the alpha male history teacher. Cube is also cast in a familiar kind of role and he plays the part straight, which works for the comedy. The cast also includes Tracy Morgan as a physical education teacher, Christina Hendricks as a French instructor, and Dean Norris as the high school principal. Most everyone in Fist Fight is cast to their strengths and they play their roles well. Most notable are Jillian Bell as a grossly inappropriate guidance counselor and Kumail Nanjiani as the school security guard. Bell and Nanjiani offer some of the few moments in which the film rises above the material.

What Doesn’t: Fist Fight contains a promising idea but it fails in the execution. The film creates an entire school worth of characters but it does not do anything interesting with them. The title of the picture refers to a fisticuffs between two educators that’s set up early on. Essentially, the whole joke is the trailer: Ice Cube is going to beat up Charlie Day. But that’s not enough substance for a feature length movie and so the filmmakers insert all sorts of other subplots such as the elementary school talent show and the high school pranks and an ongoing storyline about the teaching staff being downsized. These subplots are random and the talented cast of actors is wasted in contrived scenarios that are right out of a television sitcom. In fact, Fist Fight is an example of a movie that would have made a better television show than a theatrical feature. It’s reminiscent of programs like Vice Principals and Fist Fight plays like a sitcom episode that has been inflated to a feature length. Nothing in this movie is very funny and even at ninety minutes it is severely padded. The subplots only exist to make the movie longer and many of the jokes are repeated with diminishing returns. Fist Fight also fails as a comedy because of the way it is assembled. Timing is key to successful comedy and director Richie Keen and editor Matthew Freund fail to construct sequences in a way that makes the rhythms of a scene work. Much of the dialogue goes on too long, overplaying the jokes, and the gags aren’t set up and executed in a way that makes them funny. The picture is languidly paced, dragging itself from one lame joke to the next. Fist Fight is an R-rated movie and it presents itself as a live action version of South Park but it is never as smart or as subversive as that show. It appears to take a position on academics and the value of teachers but it doesn’t really have anything to say and the movie is divorced from the realities of contemporary schools. Fist Fight is something of an anachronism; at its heart this is the kind of anti-institutional high school comedy from the 1980s like Class of Nuke ’em High but it also has elements of youth gone wild films like The Principal. The students of Fist Fight are out of control while the instructors are lazy or irresponsible. This has little to do with the contemporary public school in which students are prisoners in a regimented institution designed to break their spirits. If Fist Fight were trying to simply be a silly comedy its distance from reality might not be a significant flaw but because this film makes a play for satire, Fist Fight’s lack of relevance compounds its other failures.

Bottom Line: Fist Fight wastes a good cast and an interesting idea. The filmmakers have pretensions to subversion but they don’t have anything to say and the movie fails as a satire and as a comedy.

Episode: #636 (February 26, 2017)