FIST FIGHT. Starring: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, Tracy Morgan, and Christina Hendricks. Directed by Richie Keen. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language). 91 min.
This American comedy film tells the story of a high school English teacher, who gets his History-teaching colleague fired after an incident in the class-room. The colleague wants to take revenge after school.
Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a mild-mannered teacher, who is stressed by teacher terminations and budget cuts that are happening at Roosevelt High, and by pranks that are delivered "on prank day" by the school's students. Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) teaches in the same school. He is a hot-headed person with a short temper, and feared by students and teachers alike.
On the last day of school, Andy is responsible for Ron being fired from his job, and a furious Ron challenges Andy to a fight after school in its parking lot. News of the impending clash goes viral. Andy has no idea how he will cope, and he doesn't know how to fight. The confrontation spreads through the school and beyond, and a huge crowd turns up to watch which gives the school publicity that it very much needs. Andy asks some of the other teachers to help him. He desperately needs advice on how to survive.
The movie locates its humour in stereotypes. A tough, black, bully takes on a weak, "light-roasted" (white), "Mr. Nice Guy" in a show-down fight, scripted to convey specious moral messages. At the end of the day, Andy fights Ron, and the movie argues that both teachers could well be the moral victor - Ron for taking on the school system, and Andy for being man enough to stand and fight. The film argues that both of them, in their own way, are "educational folk-heroes".
The film threads together a variety of racist, sexist jokes. Holly (Jillian Bell), the school's guidance counsellor, is trying to seduce a student, and Tracy Morgan and Christina Hendricks act staff being made embarrassing targets for fun. Andy buys drugs from one of his students to try to compromise Ron, and Ron attacks a student's desk with an axe, which is why he was fired. The action is mostly accompanied by crude dialogue, and students and teachers happily engage in drug-use. Holly, for example only does "drugs before I go to school".
This is a movie intended to appeal to teenagers, but has been classified as restricted viewing for young viewers. Its essential thrust is to show adults choosing to behave in the way they see young people behave, and as a result the film's role-model potential is disregarded. Its comic thrust is situational. The movie aims for humour that is crude in any situation, and most of the crudity is sexual or physical. The film becomes a raunchy, aggressive comedy.
The film threads together a wide variety of sight gags that are directed loosely. Some of them work well, and others not. One that has its moments is the comedy provided by the interactions between Andy and Holly, the school's "helpful" guidance counsellor. Bell's performance elicits humour, but her role soon confronts the viewer with totally inappropriate behaviour.
Basically, this is a poor teacher-student comedy that offers momentary entertainment. The viewer shouldn't expect social significance, or any serious character development, and the film uses racist and sexist taunts. The film aims for comic extremes, and endorses some awful behaviour by offering the message that aggression can be relied upon to help solve most major problems.
This is a film that flows from one crazy situation to another, but the film for the most part is crude, and lewd. The two main actors (Charlie Day and Ice Cube) embrace their roles with considerable energy, but the film's humour comes at a price.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released February 23, 2017