FIST FIGHT (2017)

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.

Grade: B-

22 JUMP STREET (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Sexual Content, Drug Material, brief Nudity and some Violence

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel & Rodney Rothman

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Amber Stevens, Nick Offerman & Rob Riggle

If anybody claims that they knew 2012’s 21 JUMP STREET reboot would be as good as it was, then they’re lying to your face. That movie should have stank to high heavens and the concept sounded like the worst idea in theory. Then Chris Miller and Phil Lord entered and churned out a pretty decent action-comedy. 21 JUMP STREET, though fairly predictable and almost wearing out its welcome, was a big success. The last thing anyone expected was a sequel, but 22 JUMP STREET is now in theaters and it manages to one-up the first film in every possible way. The script relies on an extreme amount of meta-humor and a mighty clever plot that goes out of the way not to repeat certain scenarios from the last film (hence the obvious meta-humor aspect prevalent in every frame of the film). 22 JUMP STREET is a very funny and wholly entertaining sequel to an action-comedy based on a cheesy 80’s cop-drama (you don’t often see that description, do you?).

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After a bust gone wrong, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent back into the Jump Street undercover program. Since their age is starting to show, they have now been placed in college to find the supplier of a new deadly synthetic drug (exactly like the first time, as their police captain so eloquently states) and stamp it out before it spreads across the country. The pill-based drug “WHYPHY” is extremely hard to track down. While on their supposedly simple mission, Schmidt falls for an art major and Jenko blends into the hard-drinking football-playing frat boy lifestyle. These factors complicate the dim-witted duo’s mystery of discovering where the drug is coming from and the identity of who’s selling it.

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Everything is a lot funnier and more entertaining this time around. This is the most meta-humored movie I’ve ever seen. One of the opening scenes in the sergeant’s office should let you know right away what you’re in for, because he’s pretty much describing the unexpected success of the last movie (right down to box-office lingo) in briefing the partners of their new assignment. Ice Cube, who got annoying as the angry black man stereotype in the first film, is given a lot more room to garner some well-deserved laughs. A few of his scenes had me cracking up to the point of near tears.

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The comedic pairing between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum feels more natural here too. Jonah Hill is essentially still playing the straight-man that he played in the previous installment, though he does get some comedy gold here and there. Channing Tatum is absolutely the funniest person. The friendship between Hill and Tatum feels genuine, even if it does get strained from time to time. It’s a good pairing, though I wouldn’t necessarily pray to see 23 JUMP STREET in the future (lightning probably won’t strike three times with this idea). A much-welcomed Peter Stormare shows up as one of the antagonists and gets some memorable moments. Another stand-out is Jillian Bell as a disapproving roommate who comes off as a very unusual comedic character in a lot of odd ways. You really have to see her performance to fully appreciate how funny she is. Plenty of cameos abound as well.

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22 JUMP STREET has a fair share of problems. These mainly revolve around some predictable through-the-motions clichés that do pop up from time to time. The movie makes fun of itself with some ultra self-aware jabs at even containing these familiar buddy-cop tropes. It still can get a little irksome. Also for the first half, I felt as if the movie would wind up on the same decent-but-not-great level that I found 21 JUMP STREET to fit squarely in. Then one key moment (you’ll know if when you see it) happens and the movie catapulted into hysterically good territory. The second half of the film is where things really shine, although the former does have it’s fair share of good jokes. Once it hits the successful stride halfway through, it never lets up on the laughs.

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22 JUMP STREET, much like 21 JUMP STREET, is far better than it has any right to be. It’s a sequel to a comedic reboot of a silly 80’s TV series. Things work out entirely in the movie’s favor though. This is one hell of a funny action-comedy. The first half has some solid laughs, but takes a little while to get fully going. The second half is where things went onto being downright hilarious. The movie is very entertaining and I can definitely see myself watching it again sometime in the future. Also stick around for the brilliant end credits that send the film out on the highest (most meta) note possible!

Grade: B

21 JUMP STREET (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content, Pervasive Language, Drug Material, Drug Material, Teen Drinking and some Violence

21JS poster

Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET created by Patrick Hasburgh & Stephen J. Cannell)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle & Ice Cube

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have gone on record saying that their careers seem to based around making terrible-sounding ideas good. This is dead-on accurate considering that their other directorial work has included CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and THE LEGO MOVIE. The idea of making a film out of a cheesy 80’s cop-drama as a comedy (which easily could have tanked at the box office) sounded pretty dire on paper. With 21 JUMP STREET, the pair go headlong into hard R-rated humor and do a decent job with it.

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In their high school years, Morton Schmidt was an awkward nerd and Greg Jenko was a popular jock. They met again in the police academy and became fast friends, helping each other out in the areas where they struggled. Together they became police officers and took down a big drug dealer…but forgot to read him the Miranda rights. Due to their mistake, Schmidt and Jenko find themselves transferred to an undercover department located at 21 Jump Street. They must go back to high school incognito to take down a new synthetic drug and its creator. Times have changed since their days in grade school and so have the cliques. Of course, this leads to one cop getting too deep in his fake identity, while the other becomes a bit of an outcast taking his undercover work seriously.

Jonah Hill;Channing Tatum

21 JUMP STREET is funny, quite funny during some scenes. It nails that part of the film right out of the gate, which is not an easy thing to do in comedy. For once, Jonah Hill is more of the straight-man to the surprisingly hilarious Channing Tatum. Ice Cube shows up in a supporting role and does the usual angry black man making mean faces routine. His character even points out that this is a stereotype, but it doesn’t make this running joke any better. The actors playing the high school students were convincing and looked the right age for the parts. For me, the biggest laughs came in Rob Riggle’s character of an obnoxious gym teacher.

Jonah Hill;Channing Tatum;Ice Cube

Most of the humor works in pretty cleverly addressing what a huge transition has gone between the generational gap. What used to be considered geeky or lame has found a trend in being the new cool thing. What used to be fantastic modern music is now considered oldies. The emphasis on how far out of their element Hill and Tatum are makes for some solid entertainment value.

Jonah Hill

Besides being a comedy, the film nails some of the action movie parts too. There are shoot-outs and car chases. They all have an added comedic sense that works fairly well around them too. One high-speed chase on a freeway had me cracking up and was probably my favorite part of the entire film! This isn’t a movie content to just play with a few curse words getting the R-rating and some cheap laughs. 21 JUMP STREET revels in the hard R-rated comedic material. It gets pretty hilarious at points, but during others it feels like the jokes wear out their welcome a bit (e.g. a scene involving tripping out on drugs that’s revisited later on in the film). The plot is fairly predictable as well. We know exactly where things are going and what point they’ll end up at. It’s a matter of playing-by-the-numbers. The script hits all of the requisite beats for a buddy-cop film, but the comedy works in the 21 JUMP STREET’s overall favor and slightly sets it apart from similar movies.

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21 JUMP STREET is a buddy-cop comedy based on a cheesy 80’s drama that is clearly in on the joke. That’s pretty obvious when you take into consideration one phenomenal cameo (well worth the long wait to reveal it). Jonah Hill plays more of the serious character as opposed to most of the hilarity coming from Channing Tatum (who does a surprisingly great job). The film is familiar and some of the jokes miss their mark significantly. Taken as an outrageous romp, 21 JUMP STREET is a good time. You pretty much know if you’ll like this one as you’re walking into it.

Grade: B-

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