Dir: Richie Keen
Starring Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks
1 STAR (out of 5)
No one ever said that comedy was easy – far from it. In fact, it’s somewhat hit and miss in the current cinematic climate. Last year’s The Nice Guys arguably set the bar high – but this didn’t mean that more traditional Hollywood comedies, for example Bad Moms, couldn’t find their rightful place. Unfortunately, comedy is very subjective – meaning that it’s going to be difficult to appeal to a wide audience unless you aim to make your jokes as accessible as possible. However, you also need to have charm – while you can write jokes that sound funny on paper, you need to make sure that your cast can sell them with enough wit and warmth to be successful – Fist Fight, sadly, while fast and furious on the joke front, fails to rise above being rather mean-spirited, floundering around in its own self-belief.
The movie takes place at a US school where a teacher, Andy Campbell (Day), finds himself thrust into a rather complicated affair – he’s rather mild-mannered, while his opposite, Mr Strickland (Ice Cube) is more of a hard-nosed disciplinarian – and it just so happens that Campbell inadvertently loses Strickland his job through a series of unfortunate events. In a manner perhaps more often seen in the schoolyard amongst pupils, Strickland challenges Campbell to a fist fight outside at the end of lessons – and what transpires from here, of course, is even further calamity and confusion, only sealing Campbell in further. As comedies go, the plot is fairly par for the course – but does it really fit a feature-length runtime? Somehow, yes – it does.
Many critics are tearing Fist Fight apart, and while I can hardly say that it is the worst comedy I have ever seen, I am afraid it relies too heavily on a number of often-used tropes and standards while all the while being extraordinarily mean-spirited. It can hardly be denied that the movie rattles along, joke after joke, at breakneck speed – admirable, perhaps, were the jokes neither completely predictable nor so oddly nasty. Day’s character, and many are in agreement here, is a rather odd choice for a protagonist – while he has served well in his own niche as a cloud cuckoo-lander in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, here he seems to squawk and scream with abandon, rarely giving us, as an audience, much chance to really get behind him. This is a movie that really seems to be more preoccupied with getting as many jokes into the runtime that to make sure that they work well with the viewers – and, as such, Campbell as a protagonist is more often than not infuriating as opposed to being someone more grounded that we can follow through to the climax.
The main problem that Fist Fight has, in addition to poorly motivated and scripted characters, simply lies in the jokes that it tells – they just aren’t funny. While similar comedies have succeeded despite being rather near-the-knuckle or bare-faced in their approach to characterisation, many of them have shined in their comic timing and in the quality of jokes that are being put across. It cannot be denied that someone, somewhere, will find the script and the jokes funny – however, in terms of mainstream appeal, many of the gags simply fall flat. This may be a case of them being poorly enacted, or poorly written altogether – but as there is so little opportunity for characters to either breathe or practice good timing, we are left with something of a jumble. Some may even say it’s a mess – certainly, more power to you if you can make any of these jokes and plot strands coherent.
Both the movie’s leads, as well as Jillian Bell, are well-accomplished elsewhere – yet this script barely does them justice. The patter of the movie is rather scattered, giving little opportunity for us to see characters grow and develop – we do, however, get to see juvenile teachers hoot and holler through a feature-length run time without any heed to the jokes that they tell, nor their timing. It’s quite hard to explain quite how underwhelming Fist Fight is – on the face of it, it is a throwaway comedy that poses no problems nor expects nothing grand in terms of plot or characters – yet, somewhere along the way, it seems to forget the building blocks that make good comedy so effective. It is transparently flimsy – and while daft plots can definitely work, they work well when there is an element of awareness, and an appreciation of comic standards. Unfortunately, while this movie will appeal to some who at least want a handful of laughs, there isn’t enough, and simply not of good enough quality, to warrant the price of admission.