Published on February 17th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
Ice Cube and Charlie Day go head-to-head in Fist Fight, throwing enough punches and punchlines to make the movie moderately entertaining if not significantly inspired.
In the comedy school of classics, Fist Fight wouldn’t make the honour roll. But it isn’t an outright flunkie either; though its gags are perhaps too sophomoric at times (so, so many dick jokes) and its characters underwritten, it’s got an air of charm about it that helps pass the time without any real discomfort. There are plenty of laughs to be had if you can just go along with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a laugh riot either.
The premise is easy enough to grasp: two exasperated teachers at an under-funded inner city high school run afoul of each other and the challenge of an after school fist fight in the parking lot is thrown down. If you suffered through your senior year instead of coasting through it, there’s going to be some delayed gratification as you watch an institution’s instructors tear themselves apart. The film ultimately tries to send a message about the dire state of public education in America but it’s a point that could and should be made in a movie that doesn’t feel as flimsy as this.
Fist Fight’s screenplay dictates that the success of the piece lives or dies on the shoulders of its two leading men. The pairing of Ice Cube, with his permanent scowl, and Charlie Day, manic and screechy, turns out to be a solid choice. Cube and Day play off each other very nicely and bring a level of confidence to their scenes that helps elevate our enjoyment when the direction (from Richie Keen, in his feature debut) and dialogue become rather pedestrian. When the two stars are together the movie is at its absolute best.
Andy is your typical family man with a pregnant wife and a daughter he adores. He’s a generic comedy straight man on paper but with enough zingers to at least keep up the pace with the more wildly written characters. Ron’s outbursts are extreme and over-the-top to the point that they push the boundaries of questionable reactions. After Andy rats Ron out over a particularly violent incident, resulting in Ron getting fired, the fireworks only get amped up from there. As their adversarial relationship grows deeper and darker we thankfully have more and more fun with it all.
The material by and large fails to serve the talented and game supporting cast. A lot of your enjoyment of the scenes that don’t feature Ice Cube will come down to your tolerance for each individual’s established characteristics. Tracy Morgan yells a lot and talks about getting women pregnant while Jillian Bell alters from skittish to sociopathic on a dime. Their characters basically become extensions of their regular routines instead of being actual characters that we can connect with. But when they’re this automatically funny, it’s perhaps not that bad of a deal in the long run. Instead of being painful, their moments are just wasteful.
Most puzzling is the inclusion of Christina Hendricks as another teacher at the school who also has it in for Andy’s destruction. It’s a glorified walk-on role spread over a half dozen scenes that just don’t play at all. As fantastic as an actress as she is, Hendricks doesn’t belong here. With Fist Fight following her forgettable moments in Bad Santa 2 last year, perhaps she should consider avoiding lame duck comedies for a while.
It would also be nice to hear the thought process behind hiring Dennis Haysbert to show up for two lines. He was goddamn President Palmer on 24 for Christ’s sake! Give the man his due here, come on. Morgan and Bell are at least given something to work with but Fist Fight somehow doesn’t know what to do with the litany of famous faces dotting the background; it’s always good to see Dean Norris (Hank from Breaking Bad) and Kumail Nanjiani, but it’s disheartening how they’re stuffed away here.
Despite clocking in at a tight 91 minutes (including credits and bloopers) there could still have been some fat trimmed from this ham; there feels like an abundance of scenes where Andy pleads for Ron to drop the fight that become a bit monotonous. There are a handful of clichés tossed in that might make your eyes roll at first but for the most part actually payoff unexpectedly strong. Indeed, Fist Fight’s final thirty minutes or so are actually its strongest.
You might walk away from the movie and only remember the broad strokes of it after a while — it isn’t exactly essential cinema that will burn itself into your brain. But the film is passable and charming in a sly kind of way. At the end of the day, Fist Fight won’t bust your gut with laughter or floor you with its humanity. It’s maybe a tad too much on the crude side but it’s harmless enough and the laughs are consistent and easy. Sometimes that’s just enough to brighten a grey February.
Image Credits: Warner Bros. Pictures