Imagine a high school where a teacher openly lusts after her underage students, where a drugged-up horse gallops through the halls, and a kid gets his desk reduced to splinters after a teacher comes at him with an ax. And then there’s the two kids who mow the outline of a penis onto the football field, the French teacher who flashes a switchblade and relishes her bloodlust, and the other teacher who, channeling Full Metal Jacket’s gunnery sergeant (“I’ll rip off your head….”, etc.), extorts narcotics from a kid in the middle of the school library.
No, there’s nothing remotely subtle about Fist Fight, the latest hard-R comedy in the long line of movies that tries to convince us that nothing can possibly be funny without being outlandishly overboard. It’s Office Christmas Party set in a high school. Or Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates without all that lovely Hawaiian scenery.
The festivities begin on the last day of school (and Senior Prank Day) at Atlanta’s Roosevelt High. Instead of just rearranging the furniture in the principal’s office or dropping a couple boxes of Jell-O in the fountain, however, the kids at Roosevelt assault the school with a barrage of stunts that would land most people in jail, or maybe even the morgue.
History teacher Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) is fed up. We know this because the first time we see him he’s marching down the hall scowling, toting a baseball bat, and threatening to bust students’ skulls, and then after his class later pulls one prank too many, he goes postal with the aforementioned ax.
In order to save his own job, wimpy English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) tattles to Principal Tyler (Dean Norris), who promptly fires Strickland. In retaliation, the still-scowling Strickland challenges Campbell to a fist fight at the end of the school day.
The setup is certainly there for an above-average comedy, particularly with the frazzled and manic Day squaring off against the ominous Ice Cube, but whatever promise Fist Fight has quickly evaporates in a cloud of over-the-top profanity and (literal) bathroom humor. Every attempt at comedy is exaggerated to a ridiculous degree, and it doesn’t take long at all for the ramped-up situations to simply become tiresome and, frankly, head-scratching. The repair bill alone for the damage caused throughout the movie would easily total in the hundreds of thousands…but, heck, that’s not important here apparently.
Novice screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser seem content to simply throw everything they can (particularly of the four-letter-word variety) at the walls of Roosevelt High and hope something (anything!) sticks, but there’s little that does. Reliable comic actors like Jillian Bell and Tracy Morgan are saddled with storylines that quickly reduce them to rubble, and the rest of the cast, including Christina Hendricks, seem to have realized halfway through filming that there’s no real reason for them to even be here.
Somewhere down in the bowels of Fist Fight is a message about having pride in your school and respect for your teachers, but I’ll wager the vast majority of teenage moviegoers will emerge from the theater armed with nothing more than a handful of ideas for their own Prank Day adventures.
There are admittedly a few moments in the movie that elicit a sporadic laugh, but they’re not nearly enough to make up for the ham-fisted, bull-in-a-china-shop (and ultimately lazy) script that will make you yourself feel like you yourself have been punched in the face…repeatedly.