Roosevelt High School is in a state of chaos. It’s the last day of school and it’s the unofficial senior prank day. Even on a good day the place is out of control thanks largely to a group of teachers that are just biding their time until retirement. One that isn’t is history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube). He’s a no-nonsense disciplinarian with a short fuse and is feared by the entire student body. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), while a dedicated teacher, is something of a milquetoast. He doesn’t want to rock the boat and doesn’t stand up for himself with the students or administration. Andy and the rest of the staff are concerned because the school board is laying off teachers to cut the budget and no one’s job is safe. Adding to the stress, Andy’s wife is pregnant and three days past her due date. Ron asks Andy to help with an issue he’s having getting a video tape to play during his class. Andy notices a student is using an app on his phone to turn off the VCR tells Ron. This enrages the history teacher who gets a fire ax from the hallway and chops up the student’s desk causing all the kids to scurry into the hall. Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) calls Ron and Andy into his office and wants to know if the students reporting the incident are telling the truth. Under pressure Andy caves and rats out Ron, getting him fired. In private Ron challenges Andy to a fist fight after school.
“Fist Fight” has a razor-thin premise, relies heavily on the kind of high school screw-up characters used in the ‘80’s in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and leans on outrageous and highly illegal behaviors by students and teachers alike to get laughs. Most movies that try this approach are accused of lazy and clichéd storytelling. Fortunately for this film that can be forgiven as it has the one thing most of those other films lack: Laughs.
Charlie Day can do manic and twitchy like no one else. He reeks of fear and confusion through most of “Fist Fight.” I can’t really call it a performance since everything I’ve seen him in, from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to both “Horrible Bosses” films, shows us basically the same character with the only difference being the volume is turned up or down. Day can be grating when his mania is at maximum. Fortunately that happens for only brief periods in this film.
The movie does of a good job of spreading the funny lines around a large cast of mostly comedy veterans: Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Kumail Nanjiani do most of the heavy lifting. There are also solid turns by Dean Norris and Christina Hendricks as the principal and French teacher respectively.
Hendricks is like a comedy assassin as her character pops up in a scene, delivers a killer line or bizarre behavior and then disappears like a wisp of smoke. Jillian Bell adds yet another scene-stealing supporting role as the meth-using guidance counselor. Bell is an expert at delivering the most troubling yet hilarious dialog with a kind of innocence and detachment that makes one wonder if her character isn’t insane. Tracy Morgan is the lovable loser of a coach who is just hanging on. Morgan throws in some gems from his standup material (including talking about getting student’s moms pregnant). It’s good to see Morgan back on screen following his nearly fatal 2014 car accident. Kumail Nanjiani plays the school security officer. This very funny man gets too little screen time but Nanjiani makes the most of it informing Day’s Andy that since the fight is happening after school hours it is outside his jurisdiction. It is a quiet and subtle performance that juxtaposes well with Day’s hyper maniac.
With all the outrageous shenanigans going on in “Fist Fight,” the film also works in a bit of social commentary about public school funding. While it is only in one scene and will likely fly over the head of anyone watching the movie, the script at least takes a little bit of time to talk about how schools are perpetually underfunded and cuts are often made with little regard to how it affects the students. It’s a tiny aspect of the film but I appreciated the effort.
“Fist Fight” is rated R for language throughout, drug material and sexual content/nudity. The sexual content consists largely of a porn scene playing on a laptop. We see breasts and two women kissing. There is drawings of sexual organs as well as what can best be described as a sketch of a male climax. You have to see it to understand. There is also a brief discussion of sex. Using drugs is discussed and the planting of drugs in an effort to stop the fight is shown. There is also a very brief scene of someone lighting a joint. Foul language is common through the entire film.
The R-rated comedy is a feast-or-famine kind of genre. While there may not be one, or a good one, for years at a time they occasionally start popping up like dandelions. Quantity doesn’t usually mean quality in Hollywood as it is often the sign of a cash grab by studios. “It worked for the other studio so let’s slap one together and release it as soon as possible.” The most recent one I remember is “Office Christmas Party” and I liked that one too. Maybe studios are starting to figure out the right combination of ingredients to make these films both funny and profitable. As long as they make me laugh they can turn out one a week. This week, they released “Fist Fight” and, in my opinion, it’s a knock out.
“Fist Fight” gets five guitars.
This week, car crashes, color barriers and musical canines are the newest additions to your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
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