If you’ve seen a trailer for Fist Fight, you know everything there is to know about this clumsy and largely unfunny effort. Charlie Day and Ice Cube (two dependably funny performers) star as a pair of teachers at a failing high school. It’s the last day of the year, the students are observing senior prank day, the superintendent and principal are making teachers reinterview to keep their jobs. Day’s Andy Campbell is the unassuming, kind-to-a-fault English teacher. Ice Cube is the history teacher who strikes fear into the hearts of even the terrible students at the school.
When a senior prank leads Strickland to lose his cool — actually swinging an axe at a student and then being allowed to finish the work day — and Campbell to witness and subsequently reveal he details of this event, Strickland loses his job and challenges Campbell to a fist fight in the parking lot after school, because “actions have consequences.” Okay. Sure.
There’s a rule in storytelling that you can only ask the audience to suspend their disbelief so much. This nuance usually trips up high concept science fiction or action films, not comedies. And yet, it’s in this arena that Fist Fight reveals the extent of its shortcomings.
Even before we see Day and Cube on screen together the senior pranks are so over the top as to be more stupid than amusing. Likewise, the pair of them a rendered caricatures in their first moments on screen. Day surrenders his assigned parking spot to a senior with a moped because it’s senior prank day. Cube storms down the hall with a bat and shuts down a shenanigan involving porn in a trophy case when no other teacher even phases the mob. Then we watch the whole incident with the axe and are left to believe everyone involved can just go about their day. Campbell’s counselor friend (Jillian Bell who manages far more laughs through all of this than she has any right to) admits that she’s doing meth again and openly lusts after the teen boys. Day busts another youth masturbating in the bathroom, said youth refuses to stop even after the fact and Christina Hendricks’s (whose talent is completely wasted) is barely present French teacher assumes Day is a pervert and swears vengeance on him too.
And on and on and on it goes. Fist Fight is a scant 91 minutes, but it begins to wear thin in a fraction of that time. The film values cheap and obvious schtick over character development or anything else. There are a few moments of genuine humor, but mostly it is eyerollingly bad, low-hanging fruit work on display.
Here’s the lens through which I found some joy in Fist Fight. Jonah Hill’s claim that he spent the duration of the 21 and 22 Jump Street shoots trying to make Ice Cube laugh — to no avail — only to one day find Mr. Cube in his trailer busting up while watching Friday has always stuck with me. I always enjoy watching Cube, (yes, even here), but I found a curious joy in imagining him watching Fist Fight someday and laughing himself silly as his character calls Charlie Day’s “light roast” or his quips “fuck tha police” in reference to his own real life NWA work. But beyond that meta exercise in imagining Cube appreciating Cube, you’re better off sticking with his other efforts — and Day’s as well.