Fist Fight is perfectly harmless and offers up a few laughs but it’s ultimately pretty forgettable once you’ve left the theater. It’s not reinventing the wheel or setting a new standard for comedy by any means but that doesn’t mean it’s not pleasant enough for a nice rainy day distraction (it has been pouring in Los Angeles and it served its purpose when I saw it).
If there is a problem with the film, it’s that it doesn’t maintain the level of dark comedy for its entire running time. There is a dose of social commentary thrown into the mix that seems very out of place. For a film that is overflowing with penis jokes and f-bombs, it seems strange to shoehorn in the plight of the public school system due to underfunding. Sometimes a comedy should just be a comedy and not try to preach to the audience.
It’s the last day of school and all the teachers are worried about retaining their jobs for the next year. This includes Andy (Charlie Day), whose beloved wife has a baby on the way, and Strickland (Ice Cube), who believes in education through strict discipline. When Strickland has an in-class meltdown and Andy snitches on him to Principal Tyler (Dean Norris), a confrontation is inevitable. Strickland declares that they’ll meet at three o’clock on the playground for a fist fight to settle their differences. Andy does everything he can to avoid it but his attempts to prevent the fight merely make it more an inevitable conclusion.
A great deal of the film’s humor mostly works because of Ice Cube. His no-nonsense approach is just right for the role and it’s something that he has been perfecting since 21 Jump Street and even more so in that film’s sequel. He’s funny without trying too hard to be funny. A mere look or the way he delivers a line is what gets the laugh.
Charlie Day, on the other hand, is more miss than hit. I’m sure this is how the character was written but Andy comes off less sympathetic and more irritating and over the top. His approach to the part could maybe work better in a supporting capacity but as a lead, he begins to wear out his welcome. The fact that you’re rooting for him to get a proper ass kicking probably isn’t a good thing.
Every joke in Fist Fight is a bit lazy and predictable. That doesn’t mean that some of it doesn’t work but none of the zingers are spontaneous or catch you by surprise. You can predict almost every joke coming and while you laugh in the moment, you’re laughing because you’ve been set up to and not because of comedic genius at work. The humor is typical of what most R-rated comedies tend to be nowadays. It’s all raunch and very little class. I don’t mind comedy like this but I prefer when it’s done with a bit of intelligence. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect highbrow humor from a film like this but some of the jokes could easily be heard on any high school campus.
At 90 minutes in length, Fist Fight doesn’t overstay its welcome. Like I said, some of it is funny at the moment and it’s harmless entertainment but I wish it did more with the material. There’s an art to making bad funny and not simply vulgar. The movie wants you to laugh at all its dirty words because it believes the humor is only in what’s being said and how over the top it is. The film could’ve been a pretty great dark comedy, but instead, we get one that is ok and prone to be forgotten as you look to next week’s new releases.