There’s something incredibly frustrating about a movie where the characters aren’t capable of properly communicating with one another. It’s even worse when your main protagonist is a pushover who doesn’t know how to stand up for himself. But these elements are the only way the premise for this Fist Fight works, so I guess we have not choice but to go with it.
Charlie Day plays the pushover, Andy, an English teacher on the last day of school. It’s senior prank day and the entire campus is out of control, which provides for some funny bits, but at the same time, incredibly unrealistic ones. At one point the principal’s car is inside the school lobby and is all but destroyed. Also, a horse on meth is running free throughout the hallway, and genitalia are drawn on almost everything inside and outside the building.
In no universe would any of these things be allowed to happen. Diplomas would be revoked and parents/colleges would be called. The principal (Dean Norris) is a hard-nosed guy on a power trip, firing entire departments-worth of teachers, yet somehow doesn’t have any authority over the students.
Another teacher, Ron (Ice Cube), can’t stand the lack of control that is happening throughout school–and rightfully so. But this dude is unglued. Every student and teacher is afraid of him. He wields a fire axe and at one point, throws a kid’s phone against the wall and chops the student’s desk in half. Andy, the pushover, happens to witness all this and is called to the principal’s office, along with Ice Cube. So apparently the principal cracks down on teachers axing desks, but not on students vandalizing and destroying his entire school–and his car.
Andy, whose job is now threatened, is given an ultimatum that he either rats out his coworker, or they both get fired. He ends up telling the truth, which gets Ice Cube fired. So now Ice Cube wants to beat him up.
Day does his best to save this movie, and would have succeeded, if not for the inherent issues within the script. His ad-libs and straight-man quips are funny, but only up to a certain point in the film. After that, events are just frustrating to watch.
The entire 2nd act is full of wasted scenarios attempting to cover a 90 minute runtime. All of a sudden you stop laughing. Not because things are less funny, but because your frustrations with the events surrounding the humor cause you to filter out all the stuff that’s not genuinely hilarious–the stuff that you were laughing at before merely because you were enjoying the actors on screen. But at this point in the movie, no actor will make you laugh.
The film turns around and gives us 2 or 3 good moments towards the end, which don’t redeem the movie, but give us a reason not to entirely hate it. The film’s brightest moments are actually well-intentioned rather than just comedy for comedy’s sake. And when those two things work hand-in-hand, it can be a very good thing.
Fist Fight tries to turn into a story about learning to stand up for yourself, while attempting to hold commentary on the problems within the public school system–both overdone themes. But here they are actually presented in a somewhat original fashion at some points. Including one scene where Andy’s young daughter performs a profanity-laced rap song at her talent show in order to get a message across to her own bully. It’s just too bad that we had to sit through most of the movie frustrated to get to it.