Ugh… as much as I don’t think this movie looks good, there’s a strange part of me that wants to like it. The trailers are enjoyable enough, I guess, but I get this sinking feeling that it’ll be too stupid for its own good. I mean… a teacher gets fired for probably doing something illegal, and if that teacher threatens someone, how does calling the police not work? I know it’s supposed to be a twist on schoolyard fights, but if this movie is asking me to suspend my disbelief, then that’s asking a lot. Maybe I shouldn’t be taking this movie too seriously, but I want to take my comedies seriously, and so far, I’m not taking this seriously. I don’t know, I just have a bad feeling about this one.
Let’s take a look at the cast. Co-starring, we have Ice Cube (XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE , BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT , and ANACONDA , and will be in the upcoming RIDE ALONG 3 ) and Charlie Day (THE HOLLARS , PACIFIC RIM , and TV show ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, and will be in the upcoming PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING ). Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with Ice Cube. He’s a fine enough actor. Intense enough for action films, and when he directs that intensity into comedy, he’s pretty good in that department as well. Should this movie not be funny, it won’t be his fault, but it does look like a stock performance. Bills have to be paid, I guess. As for Day, I really want to like him. He was probably one of the better performances in THE HOLLARS and in VACATION (2015). But I have this sinking feeling that true appreciation can only be achieved if I were to watch ALWAYS SUNNY. It’s more than likely that both actors will be competent enough, but the rest of it won’t be. In support, we have Christina Hendricks (BAD SANTA 2 , DRIVE , and TV show MAD MEN), JoAnna Garcia Swisher (THE INTERNSHIP , and TV shows ONCE UPON A TIME and REBA), Jillian Bell (THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE , GOOSEBUMPS , and 22 JUMP STREET ), Tracy Morgan (THE BOXTROLLS , SUPERHERO MOVIE , and TV show 30 ROCK), and Dean Norris (SECRET IN THEIR EYES , and TV shows UNDER THE DOME and BREAKING BAD).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Richie Keen, known for briefly directing TV shows IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY, ENLISTED, and NEW GIRL. Co-writing the script are Van Robichaux and Evan Susser. Both are making their feature-film debut, so congrats, gentlemen. They’re also both slated to write the upcoming WEDDING CRASHERS 2, due out… who knows when. Composing the music is Dominic Lewis, known for MONEY MONSTER (2016), THE DUFF (2015), and TV show THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. Finally, the cinematographer is Eric Alan Edwards (THE HOLLARS, KNOCKED UP , and CROSSROADS ).
Overall, I’m pretty sure I won’t enjoy this, but I don’t think I’ll completely hate it. I probably just have to suspend a crap load of disbelief. But, damn, I just don’t think it’ll hold up to my already pretty low expectations.
This is my honest opinion of: FIST FIGHT
Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a teacher at a high school, the final day no less. He’s a good man and tries to be a good, caring teacher, which often gets him run over due to the school being extremely unruly. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube). Clearly a man who wants to educate, but chooses a method that is just as aggressive and strict against the students. But as the senior pranks get more bothersome to Strickland, he loses his cool, attempts to attack a student with a fire ax, as Andy bares witness. But Andy doesn’t defend Strickland and ends up getting him fired, which prompts Strickland to challenge Andy to a fight after school, to which Andy doesn’t want and tries to avoid and spends the duration of the school hours to finding ways to getting out of the fight.
Mmph… alright, so while the movie is slightly better than I thought it’d be, I still hesitate to call it “good.”
Let me start with what I did like. First off, I really like how Andy is written. From the moment that the guy is challenged to a fight, he’s doing everything in his power to prevent the fight from happening. He tries asking for school security for help, calling the police, using delinquent students, framing Strickland for crimes he didn’t commit, and this is nonstop for most of the movie, and it’s surprisingly enjoyable and almost heartbreaking to watch. He’s never giving up, always thinking of new ideas that never pan out the way he wants.
Speaking of Strickland, I do kind of enjoy Ice Cube’s performance. I love his “I’m gonna enjoy fucking you up,” expression that he’s always got on his face. I know technically a funny face doesn’t make for a good character, or even necessarily good acting, but it’s still funny to see him glare at Day the duration of this movie.
But the absolute best part – and the worst, but more on that later – is that this movie did, in retrospect, have good intentions. What I took away from this movie is that you have two teachers, both have a passion for education. One is a nice and gentle teacher, the other is harsh and strict. Essentially, the movie is trying to call out the educational system and how there’s no accountability for when students don’t learn and become wild and unmanageable. In this school – again, more on my complaints about this later – mostly consisting of bad students, how nice teachers fail, and harsher teachers prevail. The students don’t respond to kindness and need to be fought fire with fire. But in a way, the movie is calling that out too, as being too aggressive results in that teacher losing his job. You can kind of see what’s going on here. It wants to show the strengths and weaknesses of both extremes, and even sort of acknowledges the idea that maybe the very educational system prevents either extreme from doing what they can do for the students, which would have been a good story for a sequel. Focus on the teachers doing what they can for their students, then set their sights on the principal and his bosses in the next one.
Also, there is a slight bit of satisfaction to see this subtle shift in Andy’s attitude half-way through the movie when he gets much more aggressive with the people around him. He starts running over scooters without giving a shit, he threatens students, it’s pretty hilarious to see him break like that.
However, here’s my ultimate problem. Everything I mentioned above, all those good ideas that the film makers had… no follow-through. It’s like watching a gangster with a baseball bat, talking smack to his victim of how he’s going to bash in his brains out in a gory fashion, but as soon as he raises his bat for the killing onslaught, it slips out of his hands and he loses the bat completely. It’s… sad.
The audience is never shown how either teacher succeeds in their endeavors, only how they fail. So we can’t have a connection to either character’s efforts or why they believe so much in them. I guess we kind of see how Strickland’s aggression keeps the students in line for the most part, but if we don’t see at least one good student try making an attempt to study hard on Andy’s side of the spectrum. All we see is incompetence, which makes his motivations frustrating to care for and we’re treated instead to a bunch of raunchy visuals that are there for no reason other than raunchy visuals, scenes that are nothing but fluff, which all could have been used to develop the characters a bit better. Again, I know Andy turned in Strickland because he needs his job to take care of his family, but I think that’s a weaker motivation than trying to prove a point that his method of teaching, being a straight arrow if you will, is better for students.
Also, it’s kind of douchie of Strickland to not care about the fact that he has a daughter and a pregnant wife. Any reasonable person would get it. You could argue that Strickland wasn’t a reasonable person. After all, he attacked a student and Andy with a fire ax. But he even revealed that one of his motivations for wanting to fight Andy was to have it go viral and have the school system conduct investigations to find the flaws in the system. So he’s being self-sacrificing. “Self-sacrificing” isn’t something you’d associate with a violence-prone asshole.
I know I’m probably thinking too much on the matter, but clearly the movie wanted me to think that this was a smart movie. It had good ideas, even well thought out ideas, but nothing about it was backed up. If all you were looking for was Day running around like a lunatic, then fine, I bet you’ll be a fan of this movie. But for those of us who still pine for the days of well-written comedy and clever commentary, this will be misfire. I want my comedies to be presented with passion because they’re so hard to come by. But if a PG-13 comedy masquerading as an R-rated movie somehow pleases the masses, then who am I to complain? As for me, I like Ice Cube, and usually enjoy Day, even here they’re not terrible, but this movie is full of dud humor and missed opportunity.
My honest rating for FIST FIGHT: a weak 3/5