Review: Fist Fight
The 1987 teen comedy Three O’Clock High gets loosely remade as Fist Fight, a fitfully funny comedy that focuses on a rivalry between teachers instead of students. It’s fun to see this concept brought into the 21st century, but at the same time, it’s obvious the filmmakers think this is funnier than it really is. There are enough laughs in Fist Fight to justify a viewing, but a new comedy classic it isn’t.
It’s the last day of the year at Roosevelt High School. Senior pranks are in full swing, the administration is looking into budget cuts, and the teachers are trying to survive one way or another. One such teacher is Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), whose pregnant wife is three days past her due date. On the other end of the spectrum is Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), who has a short fuse and is ready to beat the students to a pulp. An incident between the two results in Strickland getting fired, which results in him declaring a fight to take place after school.
Andy is a weakling, and he’s know he’s outmatched, getting advice from both the gym teacher (Tracy Morgan) and the horny meth-addicted guidance counselor (Jillian Bell) that seems to get him into one calamity after another. Yet Andy is learning to think outside the box and get mean, which gives him a chance to possibly succeed if he can just keep it together until 3:00.
If it weren’t for Jillian Bell, Fist Fight wouldn’t be as funny as it is. She gives a fearless performance that both surprises and delights. Yet most of the movie’s large supporting cast feels underutilized. Morgan and Kumail Nanjiani are nearly as enjoyable as Bell, but Dean Norris, Dennis Haysbert, and Christina Hendricks play roles that either have little development or no reason to be here. Haysbert especially is wasted in a glorified cameo that feels like a terrible outtake from his performance in Dear White People.
Then there’s the fight itself, which is excessively drawn out. While the sequence is funny enough, it seems to go on forever, and when it should be over Fist Fight misses the right beat to prove us wrong. Meanwhile, another part of the ending feels rushed; a late character beat is so unearned that it feels as if the setup for it was left on the cutting room floor.
Yet Fist Fight still works because of Day and Cube’s efforts to sell the simple concept. Funny moments occur regularly enough, and one scene at a talent show will win your approval even if you think it blatantly rips off Little Miss Sunshine. Running sight gags about a mariachi band that won’t go away and a horse high on meth manage to hit the right notes. Plus Bell, Morgan, and Nanjiani all earn some big laughs, and the rest of the supporting cast, though not used to full effect, manages to make the film more memorable than it could have been.
Expect a basic modern R-rated comedy instead and you might be pleasantly surprised, but don’t walk in expecting the next comedy classic. Considering its simple concept, Fist Fight is better than it has any right to be.