Fist Fight is a comedy about dysfunction, cruelty, selfishness and sexual frustration in an American high school. The fact that it tells the story from the point of view of teachers instead of the students probably has to do with Hollywood giving up on teenagers as an audience for anything except superhero flicks; the suits haven’t found any other way to pry the post-pubescent creatures away from their Playstations. Still, it’s nice to see adult problems portrayed on the big screen, even if the adults with the problems behave like monstrous children.
It’s the last day of school at Fuckface High (not the name of the school); the kids are running wild and the teachers can’t seem to stop them. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) has prepared an end-of-year spiel for his students, but they’re too busy smugly enjoying the not-so-great dick jokes they’ve prepared to taunt Campbell with. His heart isn’t in it, either: Campbell’s too worried about his wife’s pregnancy, his daughter’s dance recital and his year-end job review to really care about imparting any wisdom on his charges.
Day has a talent for mania. His eyes shift nervously like cornered prey; his voice tightens and steadily gets higher; he sweats and stammers and generally falls apart. It’s funny because his characters are unlikable enough that you don’t feel obliged to have any sympathy for his them. Audiences enjoy his misery. (I certainly did.)
History teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) is the only adult who challenges the students for their rioting; he’s a barely contained rage monster determined to make his students learn something, even on the last day of school. Cube, who has the funniest scowl on the screen, is perfectly cast.
The conflict between the two arises when the wimp lit teacher sells out his comrade to save his job. The bulk of the film is Day’s Campbell sinking ever lower, becoming more craven and less likable with every attempt to avoid the titular after-school fist fight.
The supporting cast is solid: Jillian Bell, so funny as the pimp in Office Christmas Party, is a ditsy, meth-abusing guidance counsellor; Christina Hendricks is the batshit drama teacher; Dean Norris is the ragey principal; and Kumali Nanjiani is the blissfully ineffective security guard and amateur sleuth. Best of all is Tracy Morgan, as a gym teacher. The end credits blooper reel has him improvising various jokes for his final scene; put just that on screen for 90 minutes and you’ll have my ten bucks.
The only truly off note came when Campbell’s daughter turned her talent recital into an expletive-filled rant. I know it’s supposed to inspire the wimp dad to stand up for himself, but potty-mouthed elementary school kids just don’t offer much comedy shock value anymore.
Fist Fight, starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day, directed by Richie Keen, New Line Cinema