Fist Fight (2017) – Movie Review
Directed by: Richie Keen
Written by: Van Robichaux & Evan Susser
Starring: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris & Christina Hendricks
Music: Dominic Lewis
Release Date: March 3rd 2017
On its face, the premise of ‘Fist Fight‘ is incredibly simple. Get well-known comedic stars, contrive a scenario to have them fight and BAM, there’s your movie. However, ‘Fist Fight‘ has been in development for over 4 years and that doesn’t include the writing process by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser making their feature film debut (and they’re also writing the upcoming ‘Sonic The Hedgehog‘ movie). We also have director Richie Keen helming the project also making his feature film debut after years directing episodes of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”, “The Goldbergs” and other favourite TV comedies.
Despite the (relatively) un-tested talent behind the cameras we do have some strong acting names such as Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Christina Hendricks and more. The film also has a 15/R rating and is upfront about it being a bare-bones comedy which is refreshing, but is there enough in ‘Fist Fight‘ to justify an inflated movie ticket cost or is this something that should have just been made-for-TV?
It’s the last day of term at Roosevelt High School and the students are running riot. They’re pulling pranks, vandalising property and generally wreaking havoc which makes life difficult for the teachers, in particular a mild-mannered English teacher; Andy Campbell (Day). When he learns that the school board and the Principal; Richard Tyler (Norris) are planning on downsizing the staff next year he gets worried due to his wife about to give birth and he needs the job security. When the feared, intense history teacher Ron Strickland (Cube), the only teacher who can get his students to behave, gets enraged and destroys a student’s desk, Andy informs the Principal who proceeds to fire Ron. In retaliation, and in an effort to teach the students that actions have consequences, Ron challenges Andy to a fist fight after school which Andy is desperate to try and escape from, by any means necessary.
‘Fist Fight‘ is a narratively unambitious movie, but that’s not a criticism. In fact, it was probably the best way to try and sell a premise like this because it tries to add credibility to the situation whenever it can without robbing it of its inherent comedic value. Roosevelt is a school which is severely under-funded, where the Department of Education are essentially pocketing the money instead of investing it into the public school system and where Ron Strickland has had enough of that injustice. Him wanting to beat up Andy isn’t just for revenge for losing his job (which he doesn’t really like or care about anyway) it’s about sending a message.
As for Andy, he’s the surrogate character for the audience as we follow his attempts to get out of the fight including calling the police (who laugh at him down the phone), blackmailing students, trying to negotiate with Ron and even try and get his job back and more. All the while Andy is trying to keep news of the fight from reaching his family despite it being the talk of the school. ‘Fist Fight‘, while not having a huge amount of ambition, does at least give Andy the decency of following an arc about learning to accept responsibility for his actions and also being more assertive. This arc could have been portrayed really poorly as a “Man Up!” type of approach, but thankfully its more subversive then that, particularly the relationship Andy has with his wife and daughter which culminates in a legitimately funny Talent Show which is one of the funnier segments in the film.
One thing that works to ‘Fist Fight‘s strengths and detriment is that cast are essentially playing themselves. You have Charlie Day playing a nervous-wreck, Ice Cube as a force of nature, Jillian Bell as a stoner-type who wants to sleep with her underage students (yeah, the gag doesn’t work), Kumail Nanjiani as a dry, witty security guard, Dean Norris as a tough-guy principal and Tracy Morgan as a Tracy Morgan-type gym coach. Expect zero subversion of any cast member going into ‘Fist Fight‘. It kinda works because you believe the characters and these archetypes, but it also prevents true investment in them because you associate these archetypes so much with these actors. Also, it’s a shame that this is yet another movie that throws Christina Hendricks on the screen as nothing but eye-candy when we should all accept by now that she’s so much better than that. She doesn’t even have anything to contribute on a narrative level, to be honest.
Some annoyances in the movie come from the blatant product placement with an entire segment of the film dedicated to a MacBook Pro, car brands are mentioned by name regardless of how unnatural it sounds (Toyota Prius) and some gags just being flat-out repeated, presumably to get the running time to 91 minutes. But, the R-rating does a lot for ‘Fist Fight‘ allowing for funny gags, inventive improvisation from the cast and for some actual violence at the end of the movie.
Because, thankfully, the titular fist fight at the end of the movie actually delivers. It’s funny, creative, Charlie Day and Ice Cube sell the hell out of it and the way the extended climax just keeps building and committing to the joke makes it almost admirable. However, while some audience members may find the film satisfying and worth a movie ticket, ‘Fist Fight‘ may be a hard sell to many viewers. Scenes where Andy is trying to get out of a fight after school were actually done better and were funnier in the “South Park” episode “Breast Cancer Show Ever” when Eric Cartman tries to get out of fighting Wendy Testaburger. That can be seen on TV for free, but ‘Fist Fight‘ is wanting more premium access and it doesn’t quite earn it.
The film’s concept may also require a level of suspension of disbelief that some audiences wanting more high-brow comedy will likely not be willing to give it. In its own way, it’s still admiral that the movie wanted to say something about the American Public School System, but it seems more like thematic set-dressing than a legitimate attempt at commentary.
From the way its directed, the way the cast handle themselves and even the premise itself, ‘Fist Fight‘ feels like a made-for-TV movie. I have no idea where the budget of $25M went to, to be perfectly honest. There aren’t that many locations and while there’s a lot of extras and stunt-work towards the end, I’ve seen far more made with less. The editing is quite choppy, probably due to actors improvising constantly on set meaning lots of footage and sound-clips just don’t line up coherently.
‘Fist Fight‘ is a decent comedy with cast members playing to their strengths and a pay-off at the end that may be worth the price of entry for some. For others, however, many of the concepts and gags have been done and done better on TV which doesn’t require a barrier to entry. Still, a lot of the gags are funny (in my opinion), Ice Cube is still one of the best comedic discoveries of the 21st century and its low-brow humour may be just what the doctor ordered for some. Those wanting a funny R-rated comedy might get what they want, but others may demand more, especially with comedy being such a competitive genre on multiple platforms.
I give ‘Fist Fight‘ 3 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 22nd Jan 18