Fist Fight may be all about feuding faculty members, but the jokes are downright sophomoric… and sparse. Set on the last day of school in a failing district, the titular schoolyard brawl is a showdown between dweeby English teacher Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) and no-nonsense history teacher Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube). As the students run wild with senior pranks—drawing genitals on the athletic fields, broadcasting porn in the hallways, etc.—Strickland snaps, trying to enact a little discipline by taking a fire axe to a student’s desk. Desperate to save his own miserable job in the face of budget cuts (and because he has a young daughter and pregnant wife at home), Campbell rats him out—and Strickland responds by challenging him to a fight.
Day brings his characteristic manic energy to the terrified Campbell, who spends the rest of the school day trying to weasel his way out of his 3 o’clock appointment with Strickland. The result is a hectic 90 minutes of hard-R jokes about meth and masturbation that don’t really land. As for Cube, he gets plenty of opportunities to show off his soul-withering stare, but beyond that, Strickland is nothing more than a one-dimensional hardass.
The rest of the faculty list is a roster of comedy names who never quite live up to their potential. Tracy Morgan is a clueless gym teacher who, unsurprisingly, makes multiple jokes about getting students’ moms pregnant. Kumail Nanjiani is a worthless security guard who’s all talk during school hours, but can’t be bothered once the clock strikes 3. And Jillian Bell is a meth-addict guidance counselor with a predatory eye on some of her students (a recurring gag that wasn’t funny the first time). Add in Christina Hendricks as a butterfly-knife-twirling French teacher, and you’ve got one of the worst staff rooms of all time.
The movie is called Fist Fight, so—spoiler alert, I guess—that fist fight actually happens. Things pick up by the time Campbell and Strickland finally face off in a hyper-violent, madcap brawl, but otherwise, Fist Fight sticks to the conventional comedy formula: mediocre jokes sprinkled with life lessons about the importance of family and standing up for yourself. Or, as Campbell puts it: “Something occurred to me while I was being dragged down a flight of stairs by a horse on meth.” Fist Fight doesn’t get an outright failing grade, but it’s still a long way from making honor roll. C