The high school comedy ‘Fist Fight’ mostly feels like study hall
Directed by: Richie Keen
Written by: Van Robichaux and Evan Susser
Starring: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendrix, Kumail Nanjiani, and Dean Norris
“Fist Fight” - During my high school days, two events would whip the students into a frenzy.
A basketball game in our school’s gym and a fist fight somewhere on campus. The former might occur 10 times a year, and the latter could be the same number as well. The difference is that the basketball games were scheduled well in advance, and the fights were not predetermined at all. They just happened, out of nowhere. The spontaneity of two people stepping out of the orderly nature of school and into a rudimentary “natural” order of sudden, violent Darwinism can grab the attention of even the most passive of temperaments. In other words, fist fights can attract a crowd, in a hurry.
Director Richie Keen hopes to attract big crowds to his feature film, a comedy called “Fist Fight”, and with an impressive cast, including Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, and Dean Norris, he has the star power to do it. It just takes two to make a fight, however, and Day and Cube play the main combatants on the last day of the academic year at Roosevelt High School.
It is also the most stressful day that English high school teacher Andy Campbell (Day) will ever remember. His pregnant wife (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) could give birth at any moment, his daughter (Alexa Nisenson) is nervous about her talent show performance, budget cuts could cost him his job, and oh yes, the most intense teacher on campus, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), challenges him to a fight in the courtyard at 3p.m., because Andy got him fired.
In this particular case, the fight is scheduled and therefore, will attract a massive crowd. The big event draws our curiosity too, but in the meantime, not a whole lot transpires during a majority of the film’s 1-hour 31-minute runtime. The aforementioned cast members play various teachers and administrators who become witnesses or victims to several student pranks, like athletic fields chalked with sexual imagery or office supplies glued to desks.
The kids – who we never really become familiar with or learn any of their names – feed a steady stream of gags, which seem outrageous to the characters, but do not generate a sense of outrage or stress for us in the audience. Let’s face it, a trip wire that releases splatters of paint on an unsuspecting teacher is just sophomoric (pardon the pun), even for a high school movie. After a while, the pranks become window dressing, background noise or mostly unfunny nuisances stepping in front of Andy’s way.
With a talented group of comics, like Day, Morgan and Bell, the movie clears the way for an entertaining preamble to the fight. Unfortunately, other than some wonderfully shameful one-liners by Holly (Bell), a meth-induced teacher who has a crush on one of her students and a hilarious musical number by Andy’s daughter, the actual fight is the film’s one attraction.
With a thrilling mix of pugilism and slapstick, Keen’s keen fight can – just about - stand alongside a lengthy battle in “Every Which Way But Loose” (1978). That is a big compliment.
Keep in mind that one fight does not make an entire movie, even if the word “fight” is included its title. It certainly takes a while to get that point, especially when one feels stuck in a study hall without a pen and paper from 8a.m. until the 3p.m. bell.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.