On the last day of the year, mild-mannered high school English teacher Andy Campbell (Day) is trying his best to keep it together amidst senior pranks, a dysfunctional administration and budget cuts that put jobs on the line. But things go from bad to worse when he accidentally crosses his much tougher and deeply feared colleague, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), who challenges Campbell to an old-fashioned throw down after school. News of the fight spreads like wildfire and ends up becoming the very thing this school, and Campbell, needed.
For high school students, the last day of school is seen as a day of kicking back and pretty much doing whatever you want because you feel you’ve earned it. For longtime English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) though, it’s seen as a last opportunity to send these kids off into the world on the right foot. However, Andy immediately struggles from the moment he pulls onto the campus. The kids are reckless and out of control with their endless pranks that would never be allowed in a real-life public school. The only teacher out of the entire faculty staff able to enforce the school policy, and get these kids to behave is the school’s infamous history teacher, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), known for his borderline brutal teaching tactics.
Early in the school day, Ron pulls Andy into his classroom to help him with a problem. After repeated pranks by his students, the situation eventually escalates to Ron swinging an axe at a student’s desk (seen in the trailer). When the two teachers are called into the principal’s office, and are threatened to both be fired if someone doesn’t speak up, Andy snitches on Ron, even after being told “teachers stick together”. This gets Ron fired, and puts a target on Andy’s back. Soon after Ron’s termination, word spreads throughout the school that Ron has challenged Andy to a fist fight. Refusing to go through with this, Andy now has to spend the rest of the day finding a way to get out of the fight by any means necessary, while also dealing with important family matters elsewhere.
Like any other R-rated comedy, I went into Fist Fight expecting to laugh at some inappropriate jokes, foul mouth language, and in this film’s particular case, see a fist fight between Ice Cube and Charlie Day that lives up to the film’s title. The good news is that I got most of what I expected. The bad news is that I had to wait until the last 40 minutes to finally get the good jokes, and certain built up character moments that finally paid off.
Nearly all of the first two acts of the movie is filled with jokes that, either I’ve seen or heard before, or just felt lazy. Jokes about teachers wanting to have sex with students, teachers on drugs, dick jokes, etc. The problem was I just wasn’t laughing like I wanted to, and most of it had to do with how unintelligent the jokes were, and how poorly set up. Successful R-rated films like 21 (and 22) Jump Street, which also happen to be mainly set within a school and star Ice Cube, have raised the bar. Obviously, not every R-rated comedy has to be on the level of those films, but some of the jokes in Fist Fight made me felt like I was being treated like a high school dropout.
Thankfully, Ice Cube carries a majority of the film with his natural talent for playing the tough guy in R-rated comedies. Charlie Day is terrific as well. He’s given the most development, starting off as a kind loving teacher, to later becoming a man who’s had enough of people walking over him, telling him what to do. Both Cube and Day are the highlights, and keep the film moving. However, they talents aren’t enough to make most of the bad jokes work. There were several dull moments, some which had me thinking “when is this over?” That’s kind of disappointing for me to say, considering the strength of the supporting cast of comedian actors. Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, and Kumail Nanjiai round out the faculty staff. All of them are good performance-wise, but aren’t given much good material to work with for an R-rated comedy. On a personal note though, welcome back Tracy Morgan!
As I mentioned above, the movie finishes off very strong. Charlie Day’s character performs a dance routine alongside his daughter for her talent show to Big Sean’s “I don’t f*ck with you”. Its a little girl big f*ck you to her bullying classmate that’s referenced throughout the film. The entire routine, and the audience’s reaction, had me laughing my ass off. Then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for. A fist fight between Cube and Day, one that’s been hyped up so many times during the movie. Thankfully, the fight lasts longer than I expected, with Day able to hold his own. One of the best things about this climatic fight was the longevity and choreography. It worked around the many weaknesses of Day’s character, and had him improvising during the fight. Where Cube was throwing big time haymakers, Day resorted to swinging text books, using staplers, and spraying fire extinguishers. It was a very entertaining fight.
The performances from Cube and Day, combined with the father/daughter dance routine, saved this illogical, over-the-top, in your face with the sex jokes, R-rated comedy from being disappointing, to just good. Rent it On Demand or Redbox.
Fist Fight gets a 6 out of 10.