You ever watch a movie and your reaction is just kinda like “Ok, that was a fun enough movie” and then you leave the theatre or the comfort of your living room and really don’t give it much thought after that? Well, that pretty much sums up my reaction to the new comedy, Fistfight starring It’s Always Sunny‘s Charlie Day and Ice Cube. The trailers made this seem like it would be enough for light entertainment fare and that’s essentially what it boils down to for the most point.
The film tells the tale of put-upon teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), who is experiencing one of the most stressful days of his teaching career. Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) has threatened that he will have to fire several staff members due to massive budget cuts. Tensions are high and when a rather violent incident towards a student is instigated by Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), the nearly psychopathic history teacher, Andy is intimidated by his boss and gives up Strickland’s name. Because of this, Strickland is fired and thus tells Campbell that they are going to have a fight after school. With the help of a losing-streak coach (Tracy Morgan) and a horned-up counselor (Jillian Bell), Andy must figure out how he is going to evade this fight and make it through to live another day.
Like I said, this movie is pretty much what you would expect but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The trailer certainly made the movie look a bit more broad than it ended up being and highlighted some of the lesser parts rather than the sections of the film that work best. The school is heavy on sight gags being that this seems to be the literal worst high school in the entire world. There are methed-up horses running down the school hallways, porn being watched in the hallway, a mariachi band following the principal around (which is my favourite sight gag) and tons more. The physical humour is also very strong as the climactic fight (you all know it’s eventually going to happen; it’s not a spoiler) is especially well-staged and way more violent than you’d expect. I will mention more about Jillian Bell’s performance in a bit but as for sheer content, she gets some of the craziest content to explore. This is a character who sends a text message to Andy about being pregnant and a separate one to Ron about someone trying to rape her just so she can get them both in the same room to have a heart-to-heart.
The film isn’t entirely devoid of a rather scathing message regarding the institution of education either. While Strickland is harsh and prone to violent outburst, Andy is a push-over. The film tells us that neither is really the option but when we learn that Strickland wants to do something about how the school board operates its day-to-day business, it’s not something we expect nor is it something we expect to be done well in a movie like this. I don’t want to ruin too many of the plot details later on in the film but the way in which the fight goes down and culminates surprised me and ventured away from the norm a little bit.
Charlie Day leads this comedy for the most part with Ice Cube definitely being in more of a supporting role. As a first test for Day, he acquits himself fairly well as a lead and carries his end of the deal. Charlie is a very funny performer most of the time and here he gets plenty of amusing moments made even more so just by his speech patterns alone. While Day gets the most overt funny moments, Ice Cube also gets a good chunk of funny stuff just by being still and angry all the time. Cube is best when he is playing an angry version of himself and so that is what he does here throughout most of the movie. He also gets a few funny lines that reference some of his past work that I don’t dare give away here. Joining our two leads are Tracy Morgan in his most Tracy Morgan-esque performance (he even says something about getting some moms pregnant) as a not-so-successful coach, Jillian Bell, who manages to take lines that would otherwise be cringeworthy and makes them work and Kumail Nanjiani, who does some real funny stuff with his small role as a by-the-books school security guard.
Some of the plot elements just simply don’t work that well including the stuff with Day’s family (although that does get a fairly unexpectedly profane and funny conclusion), the middle of the film sags a bit and the conclusion with Bell’s character is a bit uninspired considering the rest of her strong material. However, it is still mostly funny thanks to all the other elements that keep it fairly strong.
It’s worth a watch; don’t expect Citizen Kane but it’s a fun time at the movies with some strong comedic performances at its core.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)