Fist Fight is a movie that was clearly conceived when a writer had the straightforward idea of, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if *x wimpy actor* had to fight *x tough actor* in a really juvenile setting?” Our chosen combatants were then narrowed down to Charlie Day and Ice Cube, respectively, and thus, we have a silly, disposable February comedy that seemingly does the bare minimum to get by.
Of course, if all you’re looking for is a silly, disposable comedy to tide you over while you wait for better and more ambitious comedies, or movies in general in 2017, Fist Fight gets the job done. It’s nothing special, and you’ll almost immediately forget most of it as soon as you exit the theatre, but in terms of creating an outlandish battle scenario between its two lead stars, the movie technically succeeds at that, even if it also doesn’t excel anywhere else. If you have undemanding tastes, you’ll laugh in the moment, and for some prospective viewers that will be enough. It’s definitely best that you come into Fist Fight with lowered expectations though.
Fist Fight primarily revolves around pushover English teacher, Andy Campbell, played by Charlie Day, who works in a comically tough, undisciplined high school. With the school constantly making cuts, and Campbell’s job being on the line after he’s expecting a second child with his wife, Maggie, played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Campbell is definitely trying to look good and be on his best behaviour. After ratting out tough-as-nails history teacher, Ron Strickland during a violent blow-up in his classroom however, Campbell is challenged to a fist fight by Strickland in the parking lot after the last day of school, a fight that, unfortunately for Campbell, ends up going viral, and attracting a huge audience of interested parties.
This makes for a particularly silly movie that isn’t trying too hard to portray its personalities realistically. Just about everyone is varying degrees of over-the-top, with Day having to try and portray an everyman while surrounded by caricature-level personalities. Even Day ends up really playing into his schtick of being a loudmouthed coward though, so if you happen to enjoy him as he is in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Horrible Bosses, you’ll get the exact same kind of performance here. The same is very much true of Ice Cube, who is essentially playing the exact same character that he plays in no shortage of comedies, from 21 Jump Street to Ride Along. Granted, Day and Cube still have decent comedic chemistry, but neither actor is playing against type in any respect here.
The supporting cast is predictably just as ridiculous and over-the-top as Day and Cube, particularly Jillian Bell, who portrays a funny, if especially unrealistic guidance counselor named Holly who has an awkward fixation on hard drugs and underage boys. Dean Norris also chews arguably the most scenery in the movie as exasperated Principal Tyler, who always seems like he’s looking for any excuse to punish his faculty. Perhaps the biggest highlight among Fist Fight’s supporting cast however is Tracy Morgan, who is returning to acting for the first time after a lengthy recovery following his car accident in 2014, being one of the movie’s funnier characters, oblivious gym teacher, Coach Crawford.
When it comes down to it though, everyone is playing a caricature, so there’s no sense digging into their performances too much. Everyone is playing to type, and the movie’s entire appeal centers around the idea of Charlie Day fighting Ice Cube in a school parking lot. If that sounds hilarious to you, then hey, Fist Fight gives you the exact level of silliness that you would expect from any and all personalities, particularly the leads.
What’s surprising about Fist Fight is that it actually does try to have a decent message in the end. The movie’s ridiculous storyline eventually gives way to an honest attempt to highlight the importance of proper educational support, and proper backing and resources for teachers in struggling schools especially. It’s a noble sentiment, though you can imagine that Fist Fight pretty much conveys it on the simplistic level of a grade school student. Still, I guess it’s appreciated that it at least tried to be about more than a one-note joke.
Mostly though, Fist Fight will still keep coming back to said one-note joke. The loose storyline mostly exists to string together a series of increasingly ludicrous gags, with the movie often compensating for any jokes that fail by immediately following them with another onslaught of jokes. As I said, this movie is very far removed from reality too, so don’t go into it expecting anything more than juvenile insanity. It works if that’s the kind of humour that you’re in the mood for, but anyone looking for any degree of intelligence in their humour probably won’t be impressed by this movie’s silly, simple-minded plotline.
Fist Fight is helmed by Richie Keen, a mercenary television director who is making his feature film directing debut here. Keen also has prior working history with Day, having helmed a few episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so Day in particular seems to be quite comfortable under Keen’s direction. The fact that Keen has only directed television episodes before now however might explain why Fist Fight seems to have television-level production values. The movie doesn’t have much flair to it, and some of its attempts to incorporate actual directing flourishes just look odd and out-of-place.
Still, with a simple, silly comedy like Fist Fight, it’s not like the direction has to be terribly demanding. Keen does seem to give the actors plenty of room to improvise, and some particularly funny outtakes that play over the credits do seem to indicate that everyone involved in the movie is having fun, which makes it more enjoyable. Keen doesn’t seem like he ever makes any effort to reign in the actors either, hence why everyone in this movie seems to be overacting and chewing scenery. For turning your brain off, this does at least give Fist Fight plenty of dopey personality, even if those who prefer more sophisticated comedy will probably find this movie to be pretty annoying.
There’s not much to Fist Fight, and it seems to primarily pander to teenagers, young adults and otherwise simple-minded viewers that don’t want a demanding comedy. If you fall into that demographic, then Fist Fight is serviceable, if also pretty forgettable. For a February comedy, it gets the job done, especially when this year’s February seems to be particularly devoid of comedies, at least beyond the highly superior The LEGO Batman Movie, which you should definitely make the bigger priority if you have yet to see it.
Actually, at a glance, 2017 has been a strangely dark year for movies so far, The LEGO Batman Movie and this movie notwithstanding, with a surprising drought of actual light-hearted comedies in the year’s early months. That’s no doubt to Fist Fight’s advantage, since it wouldn’t stand against anything better than middling and disposable. Even with the comedy drought early in the year, Fist Fight is bound to be outdone by something in 2017’s later reaches when it comes to laughs and overall entertainment value, but for what it is, it works. It’s still dependent on you being eager to see Charlie Day get smacked around by Ice Cube, and possibly vice-versa, but if you don’t react poorly to that prospect, you won’t react poorly to Fist Fight, so long as you’re not expecting much more from it.
- Day and Cube have decent comedic chemistry
- Fun moments with the supporting cast
- At least tries to go for a heartfelt theme of educational support
- Storyline is absurd, and will annoy those expecting sophistication
- Over-the-top performances don't always work
- A bit dependent on you being a considerable fan of Day and/or Cube