Charlie Day is one of those zany guys who could read a dictionary and make me laugh. Ice Cube has proven himself to be one of the most reliable straight men in the comedy movie business. Both are naturally charismatic and fun to watch. It stands to reason that putting the two of them together – and making them fight, no less – should result in, at the very least, a handful of laughs. The bar for a movie like Fist Fight is low. I’m not expecting Blazing Saddles so much as Ride Along, but unfortunately Fist Fight makes Ride Along look like Dr. Strangelove.
I did not laugh once during Fist Fight. Not once. Even when I told my brain to lower itself to the most basic setting, furthermore instructing it to make allowances for forced laughter, nothing came. Fist Fight is the Big Bang Theory of movies, only somehow worse.
The “writers” clearly started with the idea of Charlie Day and Ice Cube getting into a fight and then just worked backwards from there. Except they didn’t. They just strung together words that are found in other comedies and then went back to watching episodes of Homeboys in Outer Space and wondering “How DO they do it?!?”
Here’s how it all goes down: Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) is an English teacher at a school where every single student is a demonstrable jerk, and since it’s Senior Prank Day, they are doubly jerksome. Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) is a no-nonsense history teacher who should absolutely be put into a mental institution because he is an extremely dangerous individual. The school is going through budget cuts and this means that the Principal (Dean Norris) is spending the last day of school firing most of the staff or something. When Mr. Strickland violently attacks a student with an axe (yes, this is absolutely the inciting event), this causes him to rightfully lose his job. Since Mr. Campbell is the one who “rats him out,” so to speak, Strickland is now hellbent on beating him up after school. Because this is how grown-ups behave.
Campbell spends his day fearfully preparing for the big fight, and doing so in a world where literally every character, including his pregnant wife and very young daughter, are unrepentant assholes. It’s confounding to the point of frustration.
This is a world where:
-The guidance counselor does meth and wants to sleep with students and texts “help, I’m being raped” to other teachers in order to get their attention.
-The French teacher carries a butterfly knife and desperately wants to use it to stab Mr. Campbell to death because she thinks he’s a pedophile ever since she overheard a him scolding a kid he caught masturbating in the bathroom.
-There is a kid who is always masturbating in the bathroom, and who demands to be allowed to finish when teachers catch him.
-The 9-1-1 operators in town sit around the phone and laugh at assault reports.
-The hashtag #TeacherFight leads to a worldwide interest in the titular duel.
-Students give a stolen racehorse methamphetamine and set it free in a high school and no one, not the teachers, not the cops, not anyone sees this as anything but silly fun.
You see, sometimes logic dictates the events, sometimes not. At times Fist Fight tries to apply the classic Ben Stiller “just-let-the-poor-guy-explain-himself” formula, but what makes that formula work in movies like Meet the Parents is the focus on believable miscommunications amongst real world situations. This gave the comedy an anchor. Conversely, you have movies like Hot Rod, which commit to full-on goofiness. This is equally effective in anchoring the humor. It’s about consistency. By not exhibiting any sort of consistency of logic – making the world one that is only sometimes governed by rational behavior – all attempts at humor in Fist Fight are rendered inert. There aren’t any miscommunications, just random occurrences with all the comedic savvy of a 4-year-old telling a joke:
Why did the chicken cross the road?
And by the time the titular fight arrives the easiest thing to do is be happy that you walked out of the theater long ago, unless you didn’t, in which case congratulations, you probably aren’t able to read this.
Fist Fight opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.