High School movies are a dime a dozen. Whether they are the setting for a teeny bopper rom-com or a no holds barred, National Lampoon’s style tribute to youthful debauchery, in the world of Hollywood they are plentiful. It makes sense considering teenagers can make something as simple as where you sit during lunch a dramatic event, however it doesn’t always guarantee a good time. Movies set in a high school are literally so overdone that they were spoofed in the 2001 film, Not Another Teen Movie. With literally hundreds of films revolving around or involving a school, it is more than fair to go into the latest installment, Fist Fight, with a heavy dose of skepticism. At least it doesn’t have school in the title, right?
While Fist Fight is by no means a groundbreaking, original comedy, it is absolutely 91 minutes of fun and its focus on the teachers gives it a fresher spin on the genre. Ice Cube and Charlie Day join a well-chosen cast of characters that make up the faculty at this random and average school and by far are the saving grace for this movie. Christina Hendricks as a French teacher with a hidden femme fatale side is a humorous touch that I could have used more of while Tracey Morgan nails the laidback, clueless gym teacher rocking one hell of a dad bod. The lesser known Jillian Bell of Workaholics and Eastbound & Down fame, brings a whole other level of creep as the teacher nursing a meth habit and desperately trying to bag a student just as they hit that barely legal age.
Ice Cube plays, Mr. Strickland, a no nonsense teacher who is fed up with budget cuts, lackadaisical staff, and teenage attitudes. He plays the straight man in the midst of a chaotic last day in an overcrowded, underfunded high school rife with out of control students. There is a hilarious montage of him acting out the insane rumors that float around the school about him. If you are lucky enough to be of an age that remembers him from N.W.A. like me, it was hard not to laugh extra hard as I imagined ”Straight Outta Compton” providing the background music (sadly, it wasn’t, what were they thinking?). His ability to balance an over the top gruffness while being the straight man to Day shows a comedic timing well developed over the years as he has transformed from 80’s gangsta rapper to modern day lead actor material.
Despite the fact that I am not a huge fan of Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia nor Charlie Day, this was the type of movie where his seemingly one dimensional acting suits the role. No offense to him or people who are fans, I find this to be true of many comedic actors. They tend to come across like one trick ponies who bring their shtick to every role, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Luckily for him, it fit this role nicely. Andy Campbell is your average, gets no respect, pushover English teacher whose main focus on this day is keeping his job as the schools budget has been slashed and they are looking to cut teaching positions in order to compensate. With a pregnant wife and young daughter, he is preoccupied with doing whatever he can to not make waves and ride out the cuts. It’s this desperation to keep his job that lands him in Strickland’s crosshairs and makes him the designated target. After costing Strickland his job, Campbell does his best to rectify the situation only making matters worse and securing his 3 o’clock fate.
It wasn’t hard to predict that we would start off seeing Campbell as the victim of Strickland’s insanity only to eventually see that reversed as the English teacher spirals downward throughout the day after failed attempts to correct the situation, falling victim to a series of Senior pranks, and having his pockets tapped out to the max while trying to bribe a student for help. The worst comes when he has to cancel his appearance at his daughter’s talent show after convincing her to keep him in the act and assuring her he will be there. But alas, it’s a movie, and while in real life you would wind up on that stage all alone sans your dad, the magic of Hollywood has Campbell making it there just after she bombs on stage riding solo. A quick rally and he redeems himself as Best Dad Ever by performing their moves to a song with surprising and questionable lyrics in a scene that pretty much steals the all of the thunder of the movie. They literally could have ended the movie after that scene and I would’ve been absolutely fine with it but I guess we have to actually get to the main event, shamelessly proclaimed in the movie’s title.
If you’ve been following what I wrote at all and have ever seen a single high school movie, you know that the events of the day have helped to build Campbell’s confidence to a point where he can hold his own during the school yard scuffle. The fight is full of the type of theatrics you would expect from Pro Wrestling and helps call attention to the plight of teachers everywhere. Let’s face it, the story is predictable, it’s not winning any prizes for originality but should you really be going to a comedy starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day, directed by Richie Keen, best known for his work on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, expecting Oscar Wilde like word play and writing?
Admittedly, this isn’t the type of movie I get worked up about but I found myself laughing, a lot. It was absolutely a fun escape from the daily drama we are being inundated with and I can’t really take fault with a comedic film that provided plenty of laughter. Yes, the story itself was predictable and a bit unoriginal however, the comedy was fresh, light, and fast paced. Sure, the actors played to their strengths making it easy for them to shine, but this isn’t the film you should be looking for people to be cast against type. It certainly isn’t going to be bringing home any awards but it provides the audience with a light hearted release and a bit of fun. Overall, I was surprised by how much I laughed and ended up genuinely liking the film. Fist Fight is by no means a think piece that will leave you waxing intellectually about school reform, but it will definitely provide some seriously needed comedic relief.