I stood outside the cinema, looking at the poster for the film I was about to watch: Fist Fight, which sees a nervous looking Charlie Day squaring up to Ice Cube. My gut told me one thing, the very thing it told me the moment I chose to come and see the picture – that it wasn’t going to be any good. My gut is normally very good on films, and it proved to be quite right here. It made me laugh, and it employs its two leads as best it can, but it simply isn’t that good a movie.
It’s the last day before summer vacation, and high school teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) tries his best to keep it together amid senior pranks, a dysfunctional administration and budget cuts that threaten his job. Things go from bad to worse, however, when he crosses Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), the school’s tough and terrifying history teacher. One student prank too many sees Strickland get fired, and because of Campbell’s involvement, Strickland challenges him to a fist fight after school. As news of the showdown spreads, Campbell desperately seeks any way out of his date with doom, but his priorities begin to shift and he begins to relish the chance to finally stand up for himself.
There’s not really very much to Fist Fight, but it’s surprisingly amusing. I mean, it’s not particularly sophisticated and it won’t stay with you for long when it’s done, but it’s got more than enough laughs to sustain its brisk runtime (especially if you’re a fan of somewhat cruder humour). It works better when we’re focusing on the laughs, too (the actual laughs, rather than just using swear words and thinking that passes for humour) – when we reach the fist fight of the title, it is less than impressive.
Day and Ice Cube aren’t particularly stretching their acting abilities here, essentially using their already-crafted on-screen personas to bring to life the neurotic Campbell and the no-nonsense Strickland. They bounce off each other well, and centring the film on their odd couple pairing is the wisest choice the movie makes. Their characters are incredibly thinly-drawn, and their arcs less so, but they’re sufficient to get through the film and give it a proper narrative.
They are far more fleshed-out than the rest of the teaching staff, however. Any character outside of Campbell and Strickland is two-dimensional at best, although they’re not around enough to really make that a problem. They can all be boiled down to a few words – Dean Norris’ grump headmaster, or Jillian Bell’s flirtatious guidance counsellor – and they are essentially there to make a few gags and that’s all. It seems a bit of a shame when you get talented actors like Christina Hendricks (the French teacher with a twisted side) or Dennis Haysbert (an educational official who’s in one scene and does nothing) if they’re just wasted.
It must be said that, although I laughed at the film and found it an enjoyable watch, I’m not going to go as far as claiming it’s actually a good movie. It does the job, but it’s somewhat unremarkable, and whenever it tries to make a point about the school system (yeah, this crude comedy is trying to make biting satirical points too), it falls on its face. It offers some laughs, and it delivers on that front, but don’t expect much else from it – there is a noticeable lack of inspiration here.
Director: Richie Keen
Cast: Charlie Day (Andy Campbell), Ice Cube (Strickland), Tracy Morgan (Coach Crawford), Jillian Bell (Holly), Dean Norris (Principal Tyler), Christina Hendricks (Ms. Monet)
Running Time: 91 Mins