Fist Fight has been done before. It’s Three O’Clock High or Joe Somebody, but with teachers fighting instead of students or employees. The concept of a weakling pushover standing up to the big, bad, neighborhood bully in an empowering final scene has been done so many times in film that you could spend all day naming movies in which that occurs. So, the jokes really needed to hit and the fight sequences really needed to register for this movie to resonate.
While Fist Fight connected with a few of its punches, it ultimately fanned on its knockout blow. The tired concept was too much to overcome, many of the jokes didn’t land with the audience, and some of the parts seemed too out of place.
Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), an old-school, no-nonsense history teacher at a struggling public school, tries to show his students a documentary on the last day of class. But his senior pupils, less than enthused about learning in their final hours of high school, prank him by repeatedly turning off the television with a wireless remote. Strickland violently lashes out at them in front of English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), forcing them each to report to the principal on a day the school had planned faculty cuts. In an effort to save his own job for his pregnant wife and child, Campbell rats out Strickland and gets him fired.
In a typically angry fashion that only Ice Cube can portray, Strickland challenges Campbell to a fight in the school parking lot at the end of the day. Campbell goes to great lengths to avoid the fight—bribing students to change their stories of the incident, trying to get Strickland arrested before 3:00—but to no avail. The fight had to happen.
Fist Fight represents a number of firsts—it is director Richie Keen’s first feature-length film, and it is Day’s first leading role in a movie. The two worked together previously on television’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, on which Day is a main character and Keen directed a number of episodes from 2012 to 2015. The pair emphasized that they signed on for Fist Fight to explore new challenges that their television careers lacked, like intricate character depth (for Day) and control over the whole storyline (for Keen).
At the same time, though, much of the movie was not a surprise at all. Ice Cube was Ice Cube—loud, violent, incendiary, and intimidating. Day, with his high-pitched rants and unpredictable impulsiveness, was like the Day we know from Sunny—minus the illiteracy, of course. There was the friendly faculty member, played by Tracy Morgan, charged with training Day’s character how to fight—sympathetic, but ultimately unhelpful.
In addition to the predictability, some of the parts just didn’t seem to fit. Christina Hendricks, as an intense drama teacher who apparently has a crush on Strickland (which was never explained or explored), seems like she was thrown into the movie for little reason. Her scenes were inconsequential, adding little to the story, and they didn’t further the plot. In fact, it ended up causing more confusion than clarification.
Jillian Bell’s character was responsible for most of Fist Fight’s jokes about sex, drugs, or a combination of the two, very few of which connected with the audience. These generally cheap attempts at humor didn’t land with the audience, and after a while, they began to subtract from the experience.
One of the most compelling storylines ended up being one only loosely tied to the main plotline—the one involving Campbell and his interactions with his family. Campbell’s daughter Ally, played by Alexa Nisenson, was charming and funny as she dealt with a middle school bully of her own.
In the end, Fist Fight bit off more than it could chew. In muddling the plot by exploring a number of “fights” toward the conclusion—is it Campbell vs. Strickland? Is it teachers vs. administration? Is it both? Is it neither?—the film never really reached a definitive end point with an explanation behind any of the issues it explored.
“Nobody’s being held accountable anymore,” Strickland exclaims to Campbell at one especially dramatic point in the movie.
Well then, let’s start now—who shall we hold accountable for Fist Fight?
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures