While his range as an actor might be limited, Ice Cube has proven on multiple occasions that he can be hilarious. At his best, we’ve gotten Friday, Barbershop, and the Jump Street films. At his worst, however, we’ve gotten Are We There Yet? and those Ride Along movies. Fist Fight isn’t one of his best comedies, but it’s far from one of his worst. It’s perfectly solid escapism that’s elevated thanks to a strong cast, several visual jokes, and a few memorable one-liners. Even if the film doesn’t pack the most powerful punch, it still manages to leave an impression.
Even if the film doesn’t pack the most powerful punch, it still manages to leave an impression.
Like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, the story essentially takes place within one day. Of course Fist Fight has more in common with the 1987 comedy, Three O’Clock High. Where that film centered on two high school students, though, the main characters here are both bad teachers. Ice Cube plays Ron Strickland, who walks a fine line between being strict and being flat-out psychotic. The students all fear this history teacher from hell and his colleagues are just as intimidated. Strickland goes overboard on the last day of school, chopping up a kid’s desk with an axe. The fate of his career rests in the hands of Charlie Day’s Andy Campbell, a timid English teacher.
Andy ultimately rats Strickland out to the tightly wound principal (Dean Norris). Enraged, Strickland challenges Andy to a fight after school. Although Andy prefers to use his words rather than his fists, Strickland can’t be talked down. The rest of the film follows Andy as he tries to weasel out of the fight by any means possible. Along the way, he must secure his job for next year, make it to his daughter’s talent show, and survive a series of senior pranks.
As you can probably tell, the plot here is thin to say the least. A story like this might’ve worked better as a half hour sitcom, which isn’t surprising since director Richie Keen’s background is primarily in television. That being said, the filmmakers do derive some pretty funny material from this basic setup. The bitter rivalry between these teachers quickly spirals out of control, as their impending fight becomes a trending sensation. As hard as Andy tries to get out of his jam, he somehow manages to dig himself deeper and deeper. It all naturally amounts to a big showdown, which fortunately doesn’t disappoint.
It all naturally amounts to a big showdown, which fortunately doesn’t disappoint.
Charlie Day is a great comedic foil for Ice Cube, which is more than can be said about Kevin Hart. There are also plenty of supporting characters that get in on the laughs, including Jillian Bell as a druggy councilor, Tracy Morgan as a slacker coach, and Christina Hendricks as a homicidal drama teacher. The screenplay by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser might not be a laugh riot, but they do know how to set up a running gag and deliver a punch line. Interestingly enough, they even work in some timely commentary about the state of education in public schools. Granted, it isn’t the smartest or most thought-provoking commentary. Considering that Betsy DeVos is now the United States Secretary of Education, though, Fist Fight might actually be more relevant than it looks.