FIST FIGHT

By GREG KING

Director: Richie Keen

Stars: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Dean Norris, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Tracy Morgan, Alexa Nisenson, Dennis Haysbert, Kumail Nanjiani, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Austin Zajur, Bill Kottcamp, Gordon Daniels.

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There have been many great films that have depicted teachers as caring individuals who have moulded young minds and shaped their charges for the better – from To Sir With Love through to Lean On Me, Dangerous Minds, Dead Poet’s Society, etc – and there have also been a few that have depicted the jaded and cynical teacher who has lost faith in the system and doesn’t give a damn anymore, such as Bad Teacher, Teachers, etc. But the alleged comedy Fist Fight is not one of them! This laboured comedy is surely the nadir of the genre.

It is the last day of school at Atlanta’s out of control Roosevelt High School and the corridors are overrun with students playing silly pranks. Decisions are being made by the principal and the dysfunctional school board about future tenure for teachers, and there is tension in the air.

Mild mannered English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is under a lot of pressure, and his day stars off badly. While helping hot-headed history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) with a problematic VCR, he witnesses Strickland attack a student’s desk with a fire-axe. Strickland asks Campbell to support him when they are summoned to the principal’s office. However, when the principal threatens to fire him, Campbell refuses to back up Strickland’s version of events. Strickland is fired, and he challenges Campbell to a fist fight in the school car park after school.

Word about the impending fight between the two teachers soon goes viral. Campbell is anxious to avoid a physical confrontation and so makes some desperate attempts to placate Strickland and help him get his job back. Failing that he tries to get rid of him through a number of hair-brained schemes such as setting him up for a drug bust.

Fist Fight is the debut feature from actor turned director Richie Keen, who comes from a background in television (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, etc). The film’s central plot seems to borrow from Phil Joanou’s 1987 cult comedy Three O’Clock High in which a school bully wanted to fight the school nerd in the car park. The script from first time writers Van Robichaux and Evan Susser lacks subtlety and is all over the place. A lot of the humour is lazy, soporific and scatological in nature. There is a funny running gag involving a Mariachi band, but little else to amuse. And the pace seems to drag.

The film has little basis in reality. Any opportunity that the filmmakers may have had to criticise the state of the public education system in America, with its underfunding and lack of resources, is lost. Much of the humour here comes across as mean spirited. The characters and their actions are implausible, in particular Tracy Morgan (in his first film role since his much-publicised car accident a couple of years ago) as Crawford, the insecure and clueless football coach with another losing to his record, and Jillian Bell’s Holly, an over-sexed meth-addicted counsellor. One of the low points though is the foul-mouthed rap song that Campbell’s young daughter Ally (Alexa Nisenson) performs at her school concert.

The film plays on Cube’s surly and aggressive screen presence and snarling nature, and he growls his way through a largely one-dimensional performance as the cantankerous Strickland. Reunited with his It’s Always Sunny director, Day has a hyperactive approach and his nervous screen presence and twitchy energy and awkward body language are perfectly suited to his milquetoast character. However, his whining high pitched voice becomes grating. The film wastes a good supporting cast that includes Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert and Kumail Nanjiani is largely thankless and unfunny roles.

It might be a bit early to call it, but this inept, unfunny comedy with a paper thin and ugly premise is a contender for the title of the worst film of 2017.

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