Film review by Jason Day of Fist Fight starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day as two warring teachers squaring up for a schoolyard fight.
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Mild mannered teacher Andy Campbell is the ‘nice’ teacher – ineffectual but with little trouble from his students. During an altercation his tougher colleague Strickland (Ice Cube) has with a student, they find themselves both facing the sack. Andy points the finger of blame at Strickland. Angered, his former colleague challenges him to a fight in the schoolyard and Andy spends the rest of the day trying to worm out of it.
Review, by Jason Day
Would this have been a difficult ‘pitch’ to New Line Cinema from co-producer Greenfield? Imagine the scene:
Greenfield: “We want $25 million to make a comedy film about two teachers wanting to slug it out after one of them gets the sack. The whole film will be geared toward the fight. Oh, we’ll work in a message about budget cuts in the education sector.”
Perhaps he didn’t put it quite like that, but you get the picture; this is the flimsiest tissue of an excuse for a film. But at least the title does what it says on the tin – it is a film about a fist fight. Nothing more, nothing less.
And let us not forget, films like this have cleaned up at award ceremonies before, earned a school-load of cash and are now regarded as classics (Rocky, 1976 being one such example. The theme tune to this is played as the lead characters square up).
The film is full of the rudest, most aggressive, obtuse and belligerent of people – everyone is seemingly cruising for a bruising.
This is hardly surprising, if not entirely fitting, when it is set in a school where everyone constantly swears at each other and teachers talk frequently and openly about their drug use and waiting for their students to turn 18 so they can have sex with them.
Ha ha ha? No, no, no!
These are tricky subject matters for comedy to cover; talk about what you want, but the laugh pay-off needs to be big, otherwise it looks like the writers have a personal issue/fantasy they want to air. Controversial and attention grabbing though drug use and teacher-pupil sex are, the ‘jokes’ wear thin and their suspiciously constant repetition raises the wrong eyebrows.
Or am I wrong and is Fist Fight just one big, bang-on satire about the corrupt and corrupting state of the US educational system? Is it shining a light on events that are actually happening, showing how brave, valiant teachers face the torment of trying to educate kids day in and day out? Are there wider points about the need to better discipline teenagers, perhaps giving teachers the power to use corporal punishment again?
No, this is not the sort of film Fist Fight is, but what it is a fairly diverting 91 minutes, enlivened mostly by a committed cast who will stop at nothing to try and raise a smile (admittedly, there are a few good laughs peppered throughout the film).
Day’s squawky voice rather amusingly threatens to break the more excited he gets and, despite her character’s dodgy romantic interest in her students, Jillian Bell as the spaced-out guidance counsellor is deadpan funny.
Full kudos to Ice Cube though who easily owns this film and, commendably, never looks embarrassed. He wipes the floor with his co-stars as he raises intractability and barely hidden, volcanic anger to comedic art. This is a seriously funny turn, laced with a brilliantly unbalanced sociopathy, a teacher who wants to literally beat education into his lawless charges. More power to his elbow, I say.
Cast & credits
Director: Richie Keen. 91 mins. New Line Cinema/Village Roadshow/21 Laps Entertainment/Wrigley Pictures/Van Brand. (15)
Producers: Dan Cohen, Max Greenfield, Shawn Levy, John Rickard.
Writers: Van Robichaux, Evan Susser.
Camera: Eric Alan Edwards.
Music: Dominic Lewis.
Sets: Chris Cornwell.
Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dennis Haysbert, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Alexa Nisenson, Stephnie Weir.