“Oh, I thought that movie was called ‘Teacher Fight.'” That’s what the girl behind the ticket counter said when I told her I was seeing Fist Fight. Hilariously, her comment says a lot about this movie in terms of plot because, yep, that’s it. It’s a 90-minute film about two teachers getting into a fight (Thank god they didn’t stretch this out for two hours). Hell, they should’ve just called it Teacher Fight.
Fist Fight takes place on the last day of school at a strapped-for-cash, public high school in Atlanta, where teachers are being laid off due to budget cuts and graduating students are making the staff’s lives miserable with their elaborate senior pranks. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) tries to send his students off on a positive note, keep his job in the department, and support his pregnant wife (Joanna Garcia) and daughter (Alexa Nisenson). But everything starts to go downhill for Andy when he rats out hardass history teacher Strickland (Ice Cube) for threatening students with an axe, which leads to a fist fight between Andy and Strickland after school.
While Charlie Day gets the benefit of having Andy’s motivation fleshed out, I imagine all that Ice Cube got for character notes was “be the scary black guy.” What we learn about Strickland (whose first name we don’t even know) mostly consists of rumors the students make up about his life before he became a teacher. They envision him as a gang member who killed snitches, a U.S. soldier who gunned down terrorists, and a vigilante cop who went after criminals that got away. Sure, we later learn that his reason for wanting to fight Andy is to draw attention to the shitty conditions for teachers at their school, but it comes as more of a surprise plot convenience than a “tough guy with a heart of gold” moment.
Speaking of which, you can’t have a formulaic, mediocre comedy without the beaten-to-death archetypes! Andy and Strickland clearly fill the nice guy who needs to stand up for himself and the tough guy with a heart of gold roles respectively. But we also have the incompetent gym teacher (Tracy Morgan), the guidance counselor who is awful at being a guidance counselor (Jillian Bell), the indifferent security guard (Kumail Nanjiani), the sexy but crazy foreign language teacher (Christina Hendricks), the pregnant wife who’s worried about her husband, and the daughter who feels let down by her dad until he pulls off a redeeming parental stunt.
Seriously. What’s the difference between this movie and the other “meh” comedies that have come out in the last decade? Like this is Office Christmas Party but with teachers. They all have the same three-act structure of 1) Life is shit, 2) Look at all of these crazy things that are happening, and 3) We all learned a valuable lesson.
Now, while the story and character development is, well, terrible, the good news is this is still a comedy, so you’re going to get some good laughs out of it. The students are quite literally the worst, and their pranks and IDGAF attitudes on their last day of school provide great gags, from two boys mowing penis shapes in the football field while Morgan’s Coach Crawford praises them for being responsible to the kid Andy catches unashamedly masturbating in the bathroom. And Charlie Day does what Charlie Day does best, which is suddenly snapping from calm, rational guy into guy with crazy eyes and high-pitched shouting. And, not shocking, Jillian Bell’s meth-addicted, student-creeping guidance counselor steals most every scene.
Oh, and hey! You’ll get to watch Ice Cube and Charlie Day beat the living hell out of each other. That’s worth a watch, right?
Fist Fight: C+
Listen to my Fist Fight review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 40:21).