We’ve seen the films about teachers that inspire their students (MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS, DEAD POETS SOCIETY, MUSIC OF THE HEART). We’ve seen the films about teachers who are forced to whip their students into shape (DANGEROUS MINDS, STAND AND DELIVER, LEAN ON ME). We’ve even seen teachers that bully their students (MR. WOODCOCK, SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS). Now we’ve got a whole new type of movie where the teachers fight each other in Director Robbie Keen’s FIST FIGHT. This THREE O’CLOCK HIGH-inspired raunch-com lays the leads’ shtick on thick in order to distract from a light story with very little heart.
Not only is it the last day of school for the miscreants at Roosevelt High, but it’s also senior prank day, which, in this movie, includes lots of graffiti’d dicks on school property, a horse on meth and a mariachi band. It’s enough to make any teacher go nuts – and one does just that. Tough-as-nails history teacher Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) rules his classroom with an iron fist and would probably think STAND AND DELIVER was a comedy. His colleague, straight-laced English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), is the polar opposite, constantly caving to the intolerable cruelties of the horrible students and principal (Dean Norris). After a prank involving a remote control leads to a unnecessarily heated confrontation between Strickland and a student, and, under the threat of unemployment, Andy rats on Strickland, causing Strickland’s immediate job termination. An irreparable rift forms between the pair – one that Strickland wants to settle in an afterschool brawl. But will Andy man up or chicken out? The better question is, do you even care what he does? *raises hand* Not really.
Van Robichaux and Evan Susser’s script (working from a story by Max Greenfield and them) doesn’t have a lot of substance to it. The motives behind why Strickland wants to have a #TeacherFight isn’t Ghandi-approved, no matter what way you look at it. I like his philosophy that actions have consequences, but violence to get attention doesn’t solve problems – yet here, in magical movieland, it inherently does. The side plot of Andy manning up so he can be a better father to his similarly bullied cute-as-a-button daughter (Alexa Nisenson) doesn’t quite land in the ways it should – like in DADDY’S HOME. How would whether or not he backs down even affect her? The filmmakers don’t make this connection seamlessly. Andy’s pregnant wife (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, who’s unfairly relegated to a thankless role) is there to constantly worry if her husband’s been fired, when things haven’t escalated to full-tilt, dark-comedy insanity. In fact, it doesn’t get into that zone. Plus, I don’t feel bad when other teachers like failing Coach Crawford (Tracy Morgan) and French teacher Ms. Monet (Christina Hendricks) get fired. Had there been stronger development, maybe I would have.
Much of this coasts on Ice Cube’s intimidating presence, which they do lampoon here, earning the first of three of my laughs. The third laugh also comes courtesy of him via a line from FRIDAY (one they should’ve said three minutes earlier). Day plays up the whiney weenie persona, but never reaches the gloriously maniac heights he does on IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY. Jillian Bell, who plays the irreverent guidance counselor, earns the second laugh with her inappropriate delivery of the line, “let’s get laid!” That said, it was a long, drawn out build to get to that punchline. Despite this clocking in at a blessed 91 minutes, a tighter, snappier pace could help push the comedy further. But what really sets it back is that they use a long-expired viral video gag (Chinese animated re-enactments) as a punchline – an automatic 2.5 star deduction, and a Liz Lemon over-the-top eye roll from me.
2 out of 5
FIST FIGHT is now playing.