by Michael B. Hock
Normally I would be excited at the prospect of watching Charlie Day fight Ice Cube. Not because I want to enjoy viciously one sided fights, but because I like Charlie Day and Ice Cube… the two of them together would be a funny premise. And on paper, it is: two teachers, settling their differences after school rather than like two reasonable adults. Those two teachers just happen to be Mr. Cube and Mr. Day, both of them pretty much playing the roles you’d expect. Throw in some other funny, talented actors who have a solid track record of creating not just hilarious movies, but hilarious moments in non-hilarious movies. Sadly, Fist Fight not only squanders the actors and a great premise, but a legitimately wonderful message.
The titular event of Fist Fight is to occur after the last day of school, already stressful due to the fact that the school is making severe budget cuts, student pranks, and for some reason, everyone showing up to the last day of school. After an incident involving a Civil War Documentary and an axe, English Teacher Andy Campbell (Day) and History Teacher/Psychopath Strickland (Cube) find themselves in the Principal’s office (Dean Norris, who is hilarious here. Not in a “I don’t my brother-in-law is a Meth crime lord” sort of way, but more in a “exasperated principal” kind of way). Naturally, because Charlie Day is still playing a Charlie Day type, he sells out Strickland to save his job. Strickland wants revenge on Campbell, who then spends the day trying to weasel his way out of a fight while Strickland yells rap lyrics at him. Hilarity (?) ensues. Oh, and Jillian Bell and Tracey Morgan are in it, and they’re funny as always.
What makes this movie frustrating instead of great is the sub-plot that sets most of this stuff in motion. Severe budget cuts are coming, so teachers jobs are being cut in what might be called a “blood-bath” type manner. Campbell sells out Strickland to keep his job, not for the love of students but because he has a wife who is about to give birth literally at any moment. This is set against the school itself, which is slowly collapsing from within. It has a great message about schools, teachers, and maybe we should be treating them like it’s a profession that deserves some respect.
It turns out that Strickland, in addition to wanting to justifiably hit Campbell for his many… many faults, wanted some kind of news coverage to bring to light what is happening at the school, and that the end result is what happened in the Principal’s office earlier, that being two teachers being pitted against each other in order to fight for their jobs. These are all good messages: Teachers do need respect, the need the tools to do their jobs, and basically the system is set up to take all of those things away from teachers while also blaming them for not being able to do their jobs is humiliating, and extremely counter-productive.
The problem is that the focus is more on the wackier and wackier adventures of a school teacher who has a lot of time over the course of the day to run around, purchase computers, hang out with the school guidance counselor, and try to inspire his students before he leaves. There are some funny jokes in the background: the sight of Campbell’s classroom becoming more and more destroyed as the day goes on, the pranks that borderline on sociopathy and felonies towards the principal… but overall we get a typical story of a man learning to stand up for himself, with Marvel Cinematic Universe type beats of predictability that you could use to set your watch. Think Campbell will eventually learn to stand up for himself? (Spoilers) Probably. Think Strickland’s plan will work. (Sure. Why not?)
This isn’t a bad movie so much as a frustrating one. With its pedigree and its message, it could have been a much more epic, funnier movie that had real heart. Unfortunately, we mostly got a bunch of tired jokes and a predictable plot. It is worth watching, mostly because of the performances of Bell, Day, Cube, Morgan, and Christina Hendricks as a frightening, frightening… do we know what she taught? I’m not really sure what she taught other than just being the insane/sexy teacher that showed up in the right spot, made a psychopathic quip, then walked away. That’s all she needed to do, though.
Maybe worth a viewing. But I really expected more.
Hamlet T. Wondercat Says
But… For its message about respecting teachers and schools, Hamlet T. Wondercat Says