Published Feb 17, 2017Even though it clocks in at around 90 minutes, Fist Fight is the kind of slight and uneven comedy that feels like it should only have been about half that length. Chalk it up to the film's shallow sitcom plotting, which continuously sees its characters making irrational and ill-advised decisions to complicate matters that aren't all that complicated. It's what legendary critic Roger Ebert used to call an "Idiot Plot"; if the characters were intelligent enough, the whole thing would be easily solved and there would be no need for a movie about it.
It's the last day of classes at a high school that's in total disarray thanks to scores of teacher layoffs and endless senior pranks. Mild-mannered English teacher Andy (Charlie Day) is desperately hoping to make it through the day with his job intact, as he has a pregnant wife and a young daughter (Alexa Nisenson) depending on him. But when he crosses intimidating fellow teacher Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) by snitching on a violent outburst he witnesses in class and gets him fired, Strickland insists on fighting him in the parking lot after school.
The school's staff is rounded out by many familiar faces, including Workaholics' Jillian Bell in an icky role as a lecherous teacher lusting after her students, Breaking Bad's Dean Norris as the crusty principal, Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani as the school's overwhelmed security guard and Mad Men's Christina Hendricks in a few scenes as an underwritten teacher.
The most notable, though, is Tracy Morgan's return to the silver screen following the accident that nearly killed him. If hearing his football coach talk about getting students' mothers pregnant isn't enough to make you think Morgan is back in fine form, the outtakes at the end, in which he riffs on something as simple as what he wants to eat at a barbecue, should alleviate any concerns that his comedic mind might still be suffering any long-term effects.
Day and Ice Cube play off each other well enough, though neither is really stretching much here in these roles. There's a funny sequence early on in which the legend of Strickland's terrifying persona is escalated to mythic proportions, but the film lags terribly during its middle stretch, in which Andy does increasingly dumb things to get out of fighting Strickland. Thankfully, it comes back to life near the end for a memorable daddy-daughter lip sync at her school's talent show that sees them performing a highly inappropriate Big Sean tune, and the film's climactic brawl, fortunately, doesn't disappoint.
Given its sitcom feel, it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that the film was directed by TV veteran Richie Keen, who has helmed episodes of Day's It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. But there is one baffling decision here that's impossible to overlook: As many characters in the movie reference the upcoming teacher fight, even going so far as to tweet #teacherfight, one has to wonder why this movie was not just called Teacher Fight, a title that would have been far more apt than the more generic Fist Fight. (Warner)