Film Review: Fist Fight

by Carrie Kahn on February 17, 2017

Run, don’t walk, away from this fight

Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) and Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) moments before they get into a… wait for it… fist fight.

I’m going to try and keep this review short, since you, gentle Spinning Platters readers, deserve better than even to have to read about this painfully awful, joyless, and unfunny new “film.” And I use that term loosely. Suffice to say I sat through 90 minutes of the most mean-spirited, petty, and demoralizing material ever presented as comedy on screen just to bring you this warning: Do. Not. Go. See. This. Movie. It hurts me to even say its title, but in the spirit of educating you so you know what to avoid, the picture in question is called Fist Fight; if you see it on your local theater marquee, now you know to instead choose to see literally anything else that’s playing.

Television director and actor Richie Keen (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) makes his feature film directorial debut here, directing his Always Sunny castmate Charlie Day and rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube in a story about two public high school teachers who get in a — you guessed it — fist fight. And that, my friends, is the entire plot of the movie. There’s some nonsense about the reason for the fight: if the teachers fight each other, according to the logic of the ridiculous screenplay (written by three relatively neophyte writers, one of whom is Max Greenfield, AKA Schmidt on New Girl. Seriously.), the administration will realize morale is low, will stop lay offs and budget cuts, and put more money into the school, which seems like a reason not even Betsy DeVos would fall for. One would hope, at any rate.

Ms. Monet (Christina Hendricks) suggests that Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) rough Mr. Campbell up with a knife. Isn’t that hilarious!?

The premise of two teachers arranging to beat the crap out of each other is supposed to be uproariously hilarious, according to the script, and all the school’s staff, students, and local townspeople encourage and cheer on the fight. In an era in which schools are trying create safe, nurturing learning environments and curb rampant campus bullying, a movie that promotes cruelty and brutality — among teachers, no less — seems not just appallingly tone deaf, but also flat out irresponsible.

Don’t get me wrong; I like a good raunchy comedy as much as anyone, but the keyword, of course, is GOOD (see Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Sisters, for example). The difference, of course, is that those movies were actually clever and amusing, and Keen’s is not; his is lazy, weak, and crass in place of being original with sharply written jokes. Here’s just a sampling of the plot elements the writing trio throws in to this disaster: homophobic jokes, a masturbating student in a school bathroom stall (who appears more than once), a horny, desperate female guidance counselor (Jillian Bell) who lusts after her male students, selfish, stupid, and manipulative students who blackmail their teachers, 911 operators who laugh and joke when answering a call about potential violence, a sexy French teacher (Christina Hendricks) with a crazed fixation on having a teacher stabbed, and a defecating horse running through school hallways. Violence! Mental illness! Potty humor! Borderline pedophilia! Are you laughing yet? Interestingly, Fist Fight also happens to be the second movie released this month in which an 8-year-old girl performs an expletive laden bit (in The Comedian it’s a stand up routine; here it’s a song) that’s played for laughs, as if watching a young girl say filthy things in front of an entire school is cute and sweet an charming. In real life, these girls and their parents would get thrown out of the auditorium, and the kids would be expelled.

Oh, Kumail. You’re such a funny guy. What are you doing here?

There’s a lot of wasted comedic talent here, which is just depressing. Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) has a small, lifeless, and especially dreary role as a campus security guard. I was sad to see him slumming here, after recently watching him in a terrific role in the smart and warmly funny comedy The Big Sick, which made a big splash at Sundance, and is bound to receive raves when it opens widely in the spring. But based on his part here, you’d never know he’s actually capable of comedic greatness. And really, Christina Hendricks? You’re telling me the amazing Emmy-nominated actress who played Joan Holloway in Mad Men can’t get any better roles than this one, in which she has to play a borderline psycho, advocating assaulting her colleagues? Of course, Jon Hamm is doing those lame H&R Block ads on TV, so who knows: perhaps the cast of one of television’s most acclaimed series isn’t doing as well as we might have thought. Tracy Morgan and, for some unknown reason, Dennis Haysbert, also show up, which just leads you to think with tax time approaching, maybe this entire cast needed a little extra money. There’s really no other explanation as to why any of these accomplished actors and comedians would willingly choose to appear in this dismal dreck.

There is only one marginally funny scene that gives a small hint as to what this movie might have been in better hands. Ice Cube’s Mr. Strickland has developed a mysterious and bad-ass reputation at the school; a scene in which various characters share the larger-than-life legends that have swirled around him is actually fairly well done. As these rumors come to life on screen, with a game Ice Cube enacting each one, we get a sense of the type of intelligent, wryly satirical humor the writers could have employed had they not simply succumbed to their most base instincts. Why they felt the need to go in the complete opposite direction, though, and fill their screenplay with only witless, boorish, and vulgar jokes is a mystery. But it’s most certainly not one you need to worry about solving by going to see this dispiriting mess, of course; some mysteries are best left unsolved.

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Fist Fight opens today at Bay Area theaters.

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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