Recliner seating is one of the best things to happen to modern movie theatres in some time. It’s definitely better than all of the new UltraVX-SuperDigital5KExtreme-Orgazmatron-3D experiences every theatre is trying to keep up with. Better picture quality doesn’t help people get laid—dark rooms and horizontal surfaces do. How do I know? Because the couple to my left put those seats to good use throughout the newest Charlie Day comedy, Fist Fight. They certainly had a better time than I did, but that’s not saying much. Recliner seats are made for fun. Fist Fight, meanwhile, is as fun as receiving a wet fart in an open mouth.
Fist Fight stars Charlie Day and Ice Cube as teachers set to fight at the end of the last day of their school year. Charlie Day plays Campbell, a weaselly coward preoccupied with his daughter’s talent show, and his wife’s imminent labour. Ice Cube plays Strickland, a violent, psychopathic scary history teacher, and a man with a mysterious past. They end up at odds during Senior Prank Day at The Worst High School In America, and shenanigans ensue. It’s the kind of setup that could lead to comedy gold, but here ends up as more of a bronze spray-tanned turd. There will be some light spoilers going forward, but this isn’t the type of movie that has many, or even matters at all. You know what happens—it’s in the title.
“This is gonna be a bad day.”
Why was this movie called ‘Fist Fight’? The hashtag, #teacherfight, appears throughout, and is clearly meant as viral marketing or even an original title. And the actual fight at the end of the film isn’t limited to fists. Yes, the movie ends in a fight, and it’s as elaborately choreographed and ridiculous as you expect. But, from a technical and marketing perspective, calling this movie ‘Fist Fight’ is disingenuous at best, and false advertising at worst. ‘Teacher Fight’ or #teacherfight was low-hanging fruit. Considering how low this movie consistently stoops, I’m a bit surprised nobody choose to pick it as a name. Is the fight worth the movie? No. Is the movie worth the fight? No. Is this movie worth your time? Hell no.
There are a million jokes in this movie and five of them land well. There’s no shortage of ideas or visual gags, it’s just that most of them don’t work. While some of the movie tends towards randomness, the real issue seems to be structural. It’s just not funny, and it should be. It’s unclear if this is a failure of the writers, actors, editor, director, or a cruel and unjust God. Perhaps all of them. This is the biggest lingering question about the film: who’s at fault? The script certainly had jokes, and the actors certainly did their best to improvise. Charlie Day and director Richie Keen have even worked together successfully in the past. I’m inclined to blame editor Matthew Freund, as comedy is all about timing, but that doesn’t seem fair. The buck should—and does—stop with the director, Keen.
“He gonna knock all the sex outta you!”
Fist Fight is a mess of inconsistent humour and bad timing, with unlikable protagonists in an outrageous fantasy world. The best part of the movie is a scene near the end with Campbell (Day) and his daughter. It’s genuinely funny, and even a bit moving. But then the music stops and the laughter stops, and the scene keeps going on and on. Even when he had something good—and knew it—Keen still managed to screw it up. The rising outlandishness of Senior Prank Day is first used as the inciting incident, but soon becomes an annoying background distraction. It’s meant as comedy lubricant to get us to the next scene, but it’s difficult to lube up when you’re already screwed. When teachers are dragged through school by meth-addled horses, a fist fight at the end seems tame.
Charlie Day and Ice Cube have both proven themselves as consistent comedic actors within their respective niches. Charlie Day is always great as a screechy unhinged every-man, and Ice Cube has a genuine talent for threatening deadpan humour. They even have a bit of mismatched charisma, playing off each others’ strengths. Yet Fist Fight feels oddly embarrassing for them both. It’s a bit like they’re in a raunchy Christmas movie—seasonal, consequence free, and utterly forgettable. The kind of movie most actors hope you won’t remember, and wish they never did. Tracy Morgan as Coach Crawford is the funniest character in the movie, while Jillian Bell’s sex-crazed Counsellor Holly is uncomfortably tone-deaf. She does meth and jokes about having sex with her students. Yes, seriously. And while the punchline in the end isn’t bad, the trek there is mortifying.
“Remember, teachers stick together.”
And the whole movie is like that. Uncomfortable jokes and unlikable characters. The students are hell-demons who should be charged with manslaughter, the teachers are clowns, and the administration is evil. It’s a comic of a cartoon dreamed up by a person with no genuine real-life experience. It’s every fake comedy ever seen on The Simpsons. A fun house mirror-world filtered through pop culture consciousness. Outlandish, fake, and worst of all, boring. All of the ingredients were there to make something really special, but in the end Fist Fight is just more half-baked crap. However, it’s also relatively harmless and brightly lit. If you go drunk with a friend, or horny with a better friend, you might just have a good time.
Which brings me back to the young couple that sat to my left. Why was I sitting next to them? The three week old Saturday night showing of Fist Fight I went to was absolutely packed. Yes, packed. The worst part of this movie isn’t that it didn’t live up to expectations, but that it disappointed an audience already thirsty for it. I was there. I saw it. When audiences want to like your movie this much, it shouldn’t be that hard to please them. Fist Fight made a few people laugh, but in the end didn’t score a knockout punch. It could have been a contender, but it’s not. I hope the filmmakers sit out the next round, watch the fight tapes, and figure out just what went wrong.
My Rating: 4/10