The oddest thing about “Fist Fight”, a zany comedy that pits two high school teachers against each other, is that it actually has something to say about the sorry state of public schools in the United States. Of course, this mini-protest occurs after a teacher plants drugs on another teacher, a female guidance counselor openly fantasizes about sex with a student, and a principal lets F-bombs fly in front of the student body.
The main reason that “Fist Fight” isn’t immediately filed into the comedy garbage bin is the truly fantastic pairing of Charlie Day and Ice Cube. These polar opposites are perfect combatants and “Fist Fight” gives each of them the opportunity to show how truly comedically skilled they are. The other actors…well…not so much.
“Fist Fight” takes place on the last day of school and the senior class is out in full force to make sure it’s a living hell for the faculty. Day is English teacher Andy Campbell, a bit of a pushover who is worried that his job will be cut while he has a pregnant wife and daughter at home. The students see Andy as an easy target and the pranks against him are relentless.
There is one teacher that seniors never prank and it is the no nonsense, off the charts intense Strickland (Ice Cube). This is a man that scowls at students and teachers alike, blaming all of them for the failure of the public school educational system. When one student finally gets up the nerve to prank him, Strickland snaps and smashes the student’s desk with an ax.
Andy, forced by Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) to either spill the beans or lose his job, rats out Strickland. An enraged Strickland then tells Andy that at 3 PM that day, they are going to have a fist fight in the school parking lot.
From there, “Fist Fight” becomes a series of events in which Andy tries to get out of the fight. He enlists the aid of Coach Crawford (Tracey Morgan, as funny as he’s ever been) and guidance counselor Holly (Jillian Bell, as irritating as she’s always been), who naturally give him terrible advice.
There is clearly plenty of influence from first time director Richie Keen, who directed Day in several episodes of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” Seemingly every character is a train wreck and one of the flaws with “Fist Fight” is that each insane situation tries to outdo the previous one. Some of these sequences completely bomb, but most range from chuckles to uncontrollable laughter.
The most inspired moments of “Fist Fight” involve a series of rumors regarding Strickland’s past. Students and faculty alike speculate about what he did before he was a teacher and these conversations are shown with hilarious results.
This is the first movie that Charlie Day has been in without an ensemble cast that carried it. He is definitely up for it and he stays away (for the most part) from the “Charlie” character that he’s easily identified with from “Sunny.” Even when the material fails him, Day manages to make “Fist Fight” amusing.
The real treat is Ice Cube. He’s been the straight man in comedies before (see “Friday), but his pent up anger leads to some truly brilliant deliveries of one liners that would only work coming from someone like him. There’s no doubt that he’s having a blast in a role that goes a bit against type, yet gives him plenty of room for comedic rage.
“Fist Fight” is a mix of snappy dialogue and stupid, failed slapstick. It peaks when Day & Ice Cube go toe-to-toe, whether verbally or during the surprising conclusion. In a movie as unhinged as this, it would have been a cop out if it didn’t actually end in a fist fight.
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