Film Review: Fist Fight (USA, 2017) has solid storytelling, but otherwise falters

If there’s one thing everybody can say about this film, it is that the film is punchy. Studio comedies have been very underwhelming the past few years, especially from studios like Warner Brothers (the less said about Hot Pursuit, the better), regardless of the comedic talent involved.

So when I heard about this film that has a wonderfully simple premise with a capable cast and the promise of Ice Cube, who is gleefully self-aware of his gung-ho persona, beating the crap out of Charlie Day, who alternately amuses as well as annoys, it was enticing. So does the film amuse despite its minute ambitions?

Charlie Day plays a mild-mannered English teacher who is currently working the last day of school. You would figure that this would be quite exciting for him to rest after the term is over, however it is anything but.

The school he works at is incredibly chaotic, with unruly students, off-kilter teachers (consisting of Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Christina Hendricks) and total anarchy; his wife (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) is pregnant; his teenage daughter (Alexa Nisenson) is in need of his presence of her school talent show and his job (alongside most of the faculty) is at risk.

But his life is put to the test when a colleague (Ice Cube) who thinks he is trying to get him fired challenges him to a fist fight after school. With all the fuss that is going on, will Charlie Day have his…day?

First off, the biggest laugh I had about Fist Fight is the fact that almost every synopsis of the film states that Charlie Day‘s character is mild-mannered. So when your film’s biggest laugh is in its synopsis, your film’s got problems.

Let’s get to the positives, which surprisingly, there are more than some would think. The cast, mainly the two leads, are certainly talented and way overqualified for the material they have. Despite that, they certainly try to make the most out of it. Charlie Day does his loud-mouthed and high-pitched persona as he always does, but he fits it to his character quite well, making him almost pathetically human. It also helps that his chops in physical comedy is put to good use; particularly during a scene where his character has to hide.

Ice Cube‘s self-awareness of his persona still pays off with some amusing moments that actually makes his character morally upright, albeit in a ridiculously sublime way. Sure, his character brandishes an axe and wants to fight a staff member, but considering the fantasy world the film inhabits in and the insufferable environment the characters live in, the man’s got a point.

And what’s also a minor surprise is that the film actually has some storytelling chops. Charlie Day‘s character has an arc which does pay off quite well, and the film actually feels assembled, unlike most comedies, which feels like a bunch of sketches stitched together to make a film. Jokes, whether they were hit-and-miss, are thankfully character-based and are not overly reliant on pop-culture, just to pander to its demographic.

What is unfortunate is that the film’s script isn’t that funny and the supporting cast are either on auto-pilot, given unfunny material or worse, given absolutely nothing to do. Tracy Morgan is just doing what he always does: Tracy Morgan. Which is fine in television and small doses but in Fist Fight and frankly, 90% of his films, it just irritates more than amuses.

Jillian Bell, who has given funny performances in the past like in The Night Before and 22 Jump Street, is given terrible material to work with, which revolves around her character being horny towards her students. It’s not only unfunny due to its tiresome repetition, but it ends up being creepy, saying that teachers having sexual relationships with students is meant to be humourous. At least with a similar joke in 21 Jump Street, the audience obviously knew that Channing Tatum’s character wasn’t a student (which is the joke), but in Fist Fight, it just looks wrong.

As for Christina Hendricks, between this and Bad Santa 2, her talents are incredibly wasted, as she is given little to do. It’s hard to blame her for making such little impression, especially with the little material to work with and the small amount of screen-time to work in. I just felt sorry for her. Kumail Nanjiani also does what he can as a lazy security guard while Dean Norris, famous for Breaking Bad, is amusing as an angry principal, but his main running joke is one that was stolen from The Heartbreak Kid.

As for the fight itself, is it worth the wait? Surprisingly, yes. The fight scene itself is well-assembled and choreographed and clearly has a Jackie Chan-influence with the use of improvised weapons. But the fight unfortunately ends with a whimper, due to its lack of structure and pacing, making the conclusion feel like a cop-out.

Despite the efforts of the cast and its simple yet ripe premise and some surprisingly coherent storytelling, Fist Fight just isn’t worth the wait due to its very patchy script.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Fist Fight is in cinemas Thursday, February 23rd.