Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Richie Keen
Stars: Alexa Nisenson, Austin Zajur, Charlie Day, Christina Hendricks, Dean Norris, Dennis Haysbert, Gordon Danniels, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Kumail Nanjiani, Tracy Morgan
Released: March 3rd, 2017
Going in with low to optimistic expectations there was no great weight on the shoulders of Fist Fight. It’s February and Fist Fight is a comedy starring Ice Cube and what you get from Charlie Day in between seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-which is more or less the same Charlie Day, but likely a little less energetic and manic due to his more lax schedule. There was no reason to believe Fist Fight would be a memorable comedic experience and it isn’t, but it isn’t the cheap altogether crap fest it very well could have turned out to be either. Rather, Fist Fight is a comedy that understands its premise is outlandish and unrealistic from the get-go and thus never takes itself seriously as a representation of the public school system (though some aspects could certainly be interpreted as exaggerated issues) and thus ramps up the ridiculous with every scene-testing the limits of how far the individual audience member is willing to go with them. It would be easy to drop off of the ride at any point along the way, but Ice Cube and Day offer a funny and different enough dynamic that the two parallel arcs are interesting enough to watch develop and culminate for the scant ninety minute running time. Sure, the premise is slim and one can feel the ride straining itself a bit as it nears the inevitable third act, but with a one-two punch of climactic scenes that includes both an elementary school talent show as well as the titular fight (which more than delivers on its promise) there is plenty to be pleased with once the credits begin to roll and the bloopers begin to play. Of course, Fist Fight isn’t the pinnacle of comedic filmmaking and it certainly isn’t what Thomas Edison had in mind when he imagined what his motion picture camera might one day be able to achieve, but as far as comic relief it is exactly that-it serves the purpose it was intended for squarely. We know what Ice Cube excels at and we know what we’re getting when Charlie Day pops up on screen and the best thing to be said for Fist Fight is that it plays up those two personas until it forces them to collide and while that may indicate there is nothing new to be found in either the story or the performances it does mean it features two charismatic and admittedly funny people doing what they do best-what’s wrong with that? Not a whole lot in my humble opinion.
The argument against a movie like Fist Fight is, “if it’s going to be a superfluous comedy with no intent to satirize or comment on a societal fad or world issue then it at least needs to be intelligent in the comedy it does doll out.” Fair enough-comedy can be at its most biting and effective when it is intelligently written to expose a flaw in a system or persons, but another inherent quality of comedy is that it’s meant to be dumb and/or goofy. There is a natural sense of foolishness in comedy that has come to be undervalued in recent history as comedy has skewed more in favor of being a tool to prove how superior one human being might be over another. Sarcasm and wit, while always appreciated, have taken the mantle from any other form of comedy making those other forms feel, not coincidentally, inferior. And so, when movies such as Fist Fight go for more crude and gag-fueled bits they now feel more like the easy route to take for laughs rather than just the different options they are. What we might get from an Apatow production or Paul Feig picture is comedy that either has a heart behind it or the comedy is spoken by intellectuals who add in a sense of condemnation with their pratfalls. That’s nothing against those comedies as I, personally, would still rather watch Superbad or Bridesmaids over Fist Fight, but the point is that all comedy doesn’t spill from the same faucet and there is value in not judging all of it on the predication of a single form being the favorable form at this moment in time. That isn’t to say Fist Fight is a comedic masterpiece either. Hell, that isn’t even to say what Fist Fight has to offer is particularly clever, but what I am saying is that the movie offers enough attempts and that those attempts pay off consistently enough that it never feels as if the film drags, it never feels as if the film isn’t in tune with who it wants to build its target audience to be, and it never apologizes for being as irreverent as it is toward the public school system or as tacky as it can sometimes be, but rather embraces the tastelessness and moves forward with it until Ice Cube delivers a punch that knocks all of us on our asses and sends us home grinning like an idiot.
The worst thing a comedy can be is not funny and Fist Fight, at the very least, has its moments of pure hilarity if not at least consistently offering something or someone to chuckle at. What is most appealing though, is this sense of a free-wheeling nature the whole production offers. Director Richie Keen (a television veteran who has worked on It’s Always Sunny many times) never allows his project to become weighed down by plot or character obstacles, but rather looks at everything as an opportunity to do something funny. Even if this is only in the sense of a cast member trying out a few improvisational lines so that Keen and his editors might have options to choose from it never feels as if there wasn’t at least a small attempt made to up the funny factor in each scene. The screenplay is credited to the writing duo of Evan Susser and Van Robichaux who seem to be new to the scene with Fist Fight serving as their test drive before being handed the keys to Wedding Crashers 2 with the film also giving a story credit to Max Greenfield (Schmidt on New Girl). While Fist Fight isn’t necessarily a bad movie all of its best parts are derived from the chemistry and creativity of its appealing cast members which leaves the screenplay to seemingly serve as little more than an outline for the performers to take and run with. This doesn’t necessarily bode well for the up and coming writing team or more it doesn’t bode well for what is an unnecessary sequel and what that sequel may turn out to be should Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson not show up even half as energetic and enthused as Day and Ice Cube do here, but God do I hope I’m wrong. The point being, there isn’t much to say about Fist Fight beyond the performers and what they bring to the thin premise that has been laid out before them to which they execute well enough that I and the majority of the crowded theater I saw this with was wholly entertained by. Ice Cube is having a blast scowling through this whole thing and delivering signature catch phrases as dialogue while Day does his nervous, insecure thing while learning to become a man that stands up for himself via the support of Tracy Morgan and Jillian Bell. There is no need for Christina Hendricks to be here, but she has one moment that is thankfully more funny than it is weird while Dean Norris comes close to stealing every scene he has with the two leads. Can somebody replace Kevin James with this guy on his own show?
Fist Fight is about two core class teachers who receive no support from their administration and even less from their district as a whole and thus resort to fighting with one another in hopes of going viral, in hopes of getting someone’s attention, all with the hope of getting someone to step in and take care of their and their student’s needs. It may not be overtly about paying attention to issues that are right in front of our faces while simultaneously examining the root of the problems that so many elders seem to have with the younger generations or why those problems and concerns may even be valid, but it certainly wouldn’t have you think you can’t draw those conclusions either. I’m not going to sit here and try to pretend to convince you that Fist Fight actually has something relevant to say about society or the expectations on our youth and how they should operate in the real world when the real world wants to cut funding and not pay educators what they’re worth (sorry if I get on a soap box here, the wife is in education) after saying it’s a dumb comedy earlier, but maybe it can’t help itself. For all intents and purposes, Fist Fight is little more than a broad comedy with recognizable personas doing what we’ve come to know them for in ways that continue to make us laugh while all leading up to seeing what will unavoidably be the conclusion come to fruition in ways that we might not expect-seriously, the titular fight is worth the price of a matinee alone. If all of that sounds too low brow for you though, Fist Fight does indeed offer points that might be taken as satire or parody. We live in a world where the impossible is truly possible, where a wealthy businessman can become whatever he so desires including the leader of the free world, and so it doesn’t exactly seem out of the realm of question that what goes down in Fist Fight isn’t exactly out of the question if not being a slightly more sensationalized version of the heights a real-life case might reach. This brings me around to the final point in what has turned into a half-review/half-comment on the state of modern comedy in that comedy is and always has been subjective. Furthermore, you can join or leave a comedy film any time you like depending on how well it falls in line with your values and sense of humor, but the likelihood that something is perfect for one viewer and utter crap to the next is never out of the realm of possibility and thus the reason it’s difficult to truly define what’s funny and what’s not-I thought Fist Fight was funny. You might not, but I’d recommend giving it a shot if you have a free afternoon to find out whether you do or not.