Movie Review: ‘FIST FIGHT’ earns a fist bump

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

FIST FIGHT
Rated R, 91 minutes.
Director: Richie Keen
Cast: Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy MorganJillian BellDean NorrisChristina HendricksKumail Nanjiani and Dennis Haysbert

Every generation has their coming of age high school comedy. From 1999’s AMERICAN PIE to 2007’s SUPERBAD, these films have always given very little thought to the perspectives of the teachers at these schools.

Enter FIST FIGHT, a profanity ridden farce with phallic jokes galore whose marketing campaign appears to have generated little more than a collective shoulder shrug. However, thanks to committed performances from its lead characters and some genuinely funny moments, FIST FIGHT surpasses its mostly lukewarm expectations and is abundantly more enjoyable than it has any right to be.

The film wastes no time in establishing the amount of debauchery the students are capable of, as well as their ability to escape any and all consequences for their actions. Due to school budget cuts, all teachers are in constant fear of being let go. We are quickly introduced to the eternally optimistic nice guy, Andy Campbell (Charlie Day, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA). Campbell does his best to dodge prank after prank from the rambunctious senior class with a good attitude, in hopes to survive just one more day with his job intact. Campbell is immediately contrasted with Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube, RIDE ALONG 2), who has resorted to straight-up threatening to literally murder his students if that’s what it takes to get them in line.

Before long, Campbell witnesses Strickland completely losing his cool by smashing a student’s desk with a fire axe over a senior prank. When the school principal (a scene stealing Dean Norris, BREAKING BAD) threatens to fire both teachers for the incident, Campbell rats on Strickland in an attempt to save his own skin. Strickland then challenges Campbell to settle their differences like real men by duking it out after school.

Teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) rats out colleague Strickland (Ice Cube). Courtesy of Warner Bros.

To make matters worse, Campbell seems to be surrounded by the most unqualified faculty on earth that would otherwise be locked away were they employed in any real high school. Jillian Bell (WORKAHOLICS) plays a meth addicted guidance counselor named Holly, who provides emotional support for Campbell while also dancing around the subject of whether or not she has had a (very illegal) sexual relationship with a student. Tracy Morgan (30 ROCK) plays a tired-out gym teacher who mostly goes underused despite one or two truly hilarious lines. Christina Hendricks (MAD MEN) plays an erotically charged teacher named Ms. Monet, and seems to be in a constant battle to justify being in this movie.

The second act of the film is really where things start to fall flat. During this period, Campbell does everything in his power to get out of fighting Strickland, with each attempt becoming more ridiculous (and pathetic) than the last, including planting drugs in Strickland’s classroom. This plot begins to ware thin over time, as it starts to feel more like padding an already simplistic story.

Thankfully, the film gets back on track when the titular brawl finally does take place (Spoiler?). When massive crowds of observers show up to watch things go down, the climactic rumble cranks the absurdity meter to 11 and does not disappoint. A common trope in dealing with the classic scenario of virtually everybody overhyping the big fight after school, is that audiences often go home feeling let down when the time comes to start throwing punches. This is not the case with FIST FIGHT.

As the son of a public high school teacher, I can personally attest that while the film portrays American high schools from a grossly exaggerated perspective, FIST FIGHT offers a surprisingly poignant commentary on the state of American public education where teachers often feel helplessly unequipped to make an impact on today’s youth. It is this unexpected layer of relevance that elevates the film to more than just a forgettable romp about Charlie Day repeatedly failing to catch a break.

Although certainly not without its problems, FIST FIGHT comes out swinging and lands far more of its punches than expected.

FIST FIGHT opens Friday (2/7).

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.