Do you know what it’s like to sit in a theater full of people watching a comedy and not hear any laughter?
It’s unbearably awkward. Hearing joke after joke met with deafening silence is not an entertaining experience. You know what would be funnier than “Fist Fight”? Watching a room full of bewildered people watching “Fist Fight”.
If there’s anything to glean from this failure, it’s that a good idea — Charlie Day fighting Ice Cube, which admittedly sounds fun on its face — can be executed very poorly. “Fist Fight” is a painfully unfunny lesson in how not to structure a movie.
The film’s setup is fairly simple: it’s the last day of high school before summer and the seniors are running wild. All day they play a series of elaborate pranks on the faculty (actually, only one of them is elaborate. The rest are puerile, uninventive and typically involve drawing genitalia), putting the teachers on edge. Adding to their stress is the imminent threat of layoffs: the principle is inexplicably putting a mass amount of teachers on the chopping block while classes are still in session. When Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) helps colleague Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) get fired, Strickland vows to fight him.
And then that setup becomes the movie’s entire narrative. “Fist Fight” has little discernable structure. There is no consistent conflict development or rising action. The film lazily settles into a pattern of ‘will they fight? Won’t they fight?’ over and over until it’s an absolute bore to sit through. It’s like watching a bad romance film with punches instead of kisses. By the time they do fight, it’s disappointing that the movie follows through on a promise it loudly made a million times already.
The plot’s stakes stay so low that “Fist Fight” has to become increasingly improbable to maintain momentum. Common sense solutions to the situation are disregarded completely; realistic avenues play out with appallingly unrealistic results. It’s not senseless in a humorous way: it’s senseless in a desperate way. The screenplay weaves in a moral to the story, which amounts to ‘physical or verbal abuse is ok if you’re standing up for yourself’. At least it tries.
It also tries to have a subplot involving Andy’s daughter proving her worth at a talent show, which is a fine enough diversion until it devolves into an excuse to show off the R-rating. Many of the movie’s jokes are embarrassing attempts to cross the line. It never manages to reach the gleefully offensive highs of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, which Charlie Day and the director have previously collaborated on.
The two hallmarks of an awful comedy movie — a lack of visual imagination and over-explanation of every little detail — are instantly present. It’s to the credit of talented comics that some gags pan out: Charlie Day conquers the hilarious vocal inflection game, Tracy Morgan is thankfully alive and with intact funny bones, Jillian Bell’s deadpan doesn’t get old right away.
Otherwise, “Fist Fight” is an insult to the audience that’s worse than a ruthless beating.
★ (1 out of 5)