Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Sexual Content/Nudity and Drug Material
Directed by: Richie Keen
Written by: Van Robichaux & Evan Susser
Starring: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Dean Norris, Kumail Nanjiani, Dennis Haysbert & JoAnna Garcia
I may be a tad biased towards FIST FIGHT, because my day job involves education. However, I will attempt to review this film in the fairest way possible. FIST FIGHT has solid laughs, good acting, and packs in surprisingly relevant social commentary. However, this film suffers from a handful of jokes that fail to land and storytelling that’s about as predictable as overused formulas can be. This is a simple little comedy that has more positives than negatives, but only amounts to being decently entertaining.
On the last day of school at Roosevelt High, students are dishing out relentless (downright dangerous) pranks and teachers are counting the hours until they receive their well-earned vacation away from the teenage hellions. When English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) attempts to help hot-headed History teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), it results in Strickland furiously destroying a desk with a fire axe. Wishing to keep his job, Andy narks on Strickland and is challenged to an afterschool fist fight by the now-jobless Strickland. Not wishing to get his ass kicked, Andy tries to find a way to thwart the confrontation…all while the social media spreads the news of the #TeacherFight and the clock ticks down to the inevitable.
Props to FIST FIGHT for being a hard R-rated comedy. This is filled with crude, explicit and very funny jokes. If you don’t like this kind of humor, you probably won’t like FIST FIGHT. If you find yourself giggling at horribly inappropriate situations and sex jokes, you’re likely to get enjoyment out of this film. Not every joke works, but many of them result in well-earned laughs. The humor mainly comes from a colorful batch of characters working at the school and increasingly desperate lengths that Andy goes to in order to divert the inevitable teacher fight.
Though certain characters are one-dimensional, the dysfunctional faculty is brought to life by capable performers. As timid teacher Andy, Charlie Day is basically playing the high-pitched, hyperactive character that he plays in every film…but this time he has trouble standing up to people. I bet you can’t possibly guess where his story arc will end up. Ice Cube plays his usual tough guy persona as the stressed-out antagonist, though there’s a slightly deeper level to his character that left me pleasantly surprised. To be fair, Ice Cube and Charlie Day aren’t bad in their roles, but they are pretty much playing their usual typecast characters.
On the supporting side of things, Dean Norris earns a huge amount of laughs as the intimidating principal. Jillian Bell is hilarious as the worst school counselor ever, who openly admits to buying home-cooked meth from students and fantasizes about being with legal-aged seniors. Kumail Nanjiani also receives a few good moments as the school’s security guard, who pretty much hates everyone around him. The only performers who fall flat are Tracy Morgan as the loser gym coach (he didn’t elicit a single laugh from me) and Christina Hendricks as a borderline psychopathic Drama teacher (her story arc was underused).
As another highlight, FIST FIGHT surprisingly delivers hilariously accurate social commentary about the everyday stresses that teachers have to endure and how the education system has its problems. This mainly comes in one great moment that hits right before the inevitable teacher fight. I’m sure that loads of educators will adore this specific scene, because it’s oddly therapeutic to watch. As for the titular fight sequence, it’s well executed with over-the-top violence and plenty of laughs. Also, this film realistically portrays how social media can blow up an otherwise small event. We’ve seen plenty of crazy school stories in the news and FIST FIGHT certainly nails how technology can potentially make an already problematic situation even worse.
FIST FIGHT is a decently entertaining comedy. A few of the characters are one-note, some the jokes simply don’t land, and the storytelling is formulaic (to say the least), but the film’s positives far outweigh its problems. Again, I’m slightly biased towards this comedy, because I have an attachment to the material it’s lampooning. As a flawed R-rated comedy that supplies big laughs and a decent amount of charm, I give FIST FIGHT a tepid recommendation.