By Daniel Reif
“Last day of school, b*****s!”
Whether I censor here or not, I sure catch the senior spirit of Fist Fight’s high school from hell. The brash sentiment is not a whisper of glee for the movie’s teenage hounds. The dirty words are freshly hung upon a rafter of a bed sheet at 8:30 am, waving proudly in the summer winds and likely tainted with some pip squeak’s pre-maturation.
The banner is no last hoorah, either. Rather, a declaration of war. War on the public education establishment and the sloths who attempt to imprison the feeble minded with- god forbid- learning. You’ll crack chuckles at the sight, but don’t expect the beginning of a Dazed and Confused concerned with kids extra dazed and confused. For better (our viewing pleasure) or worse (the near future of a coward), this day is about the teachers!
As the school year’s tradition of elaborate, hellish senior pranks (which start as early as each faculty member pulls into the parking lot) begin, a greater apocalypse peaks in the yonder for the educators. Recent budget cuts mean many will not return to their halls in the fall. Restless principal, Richard Tyler (Dean Norris), states it bluntly: “departments are being slashed”… departments. That reality is not missed on squarely kind English teacher, Mr. Andy Campbell (Charlie Day)- a young father to a similarly timid daughter with one more rascal on the way. Here are the fateful hours he and his wife (Joanna Garcia) have dreaded.
The grim prospects don’t bring much cheer in his co-workers. History teacher, Mr. Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), storms his workplace, but none would notice any specific difference from the hot-headed commando of class time, a hallway force of authority and discipline, and an explosion of intimidation. He is an angry man, but to be fair, the manor beneath the madness is his sense of justice and voice for education. Unfortunately (and understandably), the young ones really only recognize Strickland’s will. That said, imagine their fear and disbelief when he sets a new bar by destroying a regretful prankster’s desk with a fire axe!
Now imagine Campbell’s disbelief as a witness. Imagine Day in a beige suit made for white guys with pocket books, popping his squinty eye balls and dropping his blonde jaw at the outburst. You can imagine the shocked and paternally desperate fellow finds the balls to rat out his unhinged colleague to their boss, and you can certainly imagine the same squirmer has no balls to physically fight the man he gets fired.
Strickland lays the details- 3:00 PM, parking lot, Campbell and him- and their arena’s pee brains embrace the forthcoming mania like a second senior prom. By noon, “#TeacherFight” has taken the local community and global social media by storm.
The shit has hit the fan and Campbell has no relieving support system. Youth terrorize him with paint guns, Sharpie-drawn penises, and a meth-ed up horse (go ahead, read those last two words again). School counselor and braindead semi-confidant, Holly, wants hop him on drugs. The intense Ms. Monet (Christina Hendricks) mistakes the shrew for a pervert and wishes for more than his job to be slashed. Ineffective security guard, “Officer” Mehar (Kumail Nanjiani), is not only excited to bounce at the sound of the final school bell, but mocks Campbell, as well. Under-denominator, Coach Crawford (Tracy Morgan), is fed up with everyone.
I truly have no idea when you realize Fist Fight has no rulebook. Do you clock the absurdity at property destruction by axe? At Ms. Monet’s butterfly knife? At a male student who can masturbate in the school restroom under any interruption? At pasty Campbell and his child performing Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You” for a talent show? The numerous plot holes in the schoolbag of recurring and throw-away gags? I’ll let you choose where the 21 Jump Street-turned-Putney Swope marker lies.
For screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, they need another draft, but you must praise their proverbial punch. The comedy penners shower us in vulgar, Kevin Smith sketch-work; bending us to sit through cheap dick jokes, but wash our boredom with smart, knockout belly laughs. The duo make for a savvy pair of lunchroom clowns.
As you take record of what hits and misses, unworthy shortcomings befall a worthy supporting cast. Bell, Nanjiani, and Morgan seem written for their roles; tailor-made to their comedic instincts. This is evident in the credits’ blooper reel of improv one-liners, but for what we get, these pros are no better than “pleasant”. They try, but like their bloopers’ cut-out jokes, they only become chuckling scenery.
Cherished talent, Christina Hendricks, is laid to waste in the flick’s worst offense. The actress is given a simmering psycho who never sparks into someone more.
To run the distance of its 90 minutes, Fist Fight finds Cube! Day is a creeping surprise to compliment. The former is a coldly thrilling energy; bursting through his character’s epically streetwise past and, if you can guess it, odd passion for civility. Snot-and-poop-inducing reaction shots, unbelievable physicality, and big line drops (of course the legend eventually utters, “You got knocked the fuck out!”) make for a career highlight. The latter increases favor by formation. Day works his way into the script’s distracting build and wins us with a blast of a third act. You may not regret waiting for his smashing fun turn against the nutty surroundings.
The two also seem to get debut director Richie Keen’s full attention…and not to the film’s benefit. If you laugh, you can’t mind a stiffly shot comedy, but Keen loses cohesive tone by treating his leads to the sweetest camerawork. He best shoots the best two mechanisms, and the counterparts sit dull.
Overall, the company have constructed an admirably influenced and uniquely absurd last day of school. The comedy is not so crafty and challenging. Will you want your lunch money back? No, because it takes one more element to pass class: the message. Fist Fight knows the real folk heroes in a Betsy Devos America. Public school teachers matter, and here, that message is more bookend than constant. Still, the movie bookends an important constant for ourselves: if the teachers get cut, the schools get crushed.
Directed by Richie Keen, Screenplay by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser – 2017 – Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures – 1hr 31m
February 21, 2017
Did you pound it out with your teachers over Fist Fight this past weekend? Then you’re the coolest cat in class… and you should tell Daniel!
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