fist fight

review by sean o flannagain

This is a film that lives up to the old saying that dying is easy, but comedy is hard. The picture dies right there on the screen before us. Charlie Day plays the nerdy English teacher at a threadbare American high school who improbably offends his hothead colleague Strickland, played by Ice Cube. He must learn to stand up to his students, his boss and his family, and he will eventually learn self-respect through partaking in the aforementioned brawl of the title with the crazed Ice Cube. There have been many films that have explored the relationship between violence and male emasculation, the best being the Peckinpah Western Straw Dogs. But to explore such an idea in a crass comedy made up of SNL alumni is a baffling decision.

The plot of course is ridiculous, but that wouldn’t be so bad if the film itself weren’t so completely held hostage by it. There is a good film to be made about the problems facing American public schools and the pressures faced by the Teachers in them, but this is not it. What’s surprising is that although the film fails in all sorts of ways, and most importantly it’s just not funny, the nomadic screenplay does manage to touch upon one or two interesting ideas. The film for my money also features the best school talent show seen in a movie since Napoleon Dynamite, as Day’s on screen daughter disses the school bully in a foul-mouthed rendition of a rap song with her father in tow. The familial scenes play like the earlier sweeter films of Judd Apatow, think This is 40. But we are constantly brought back to the main plot at the school which plays like a crossover of the fraternity from Animal House and the ghetto seen in Dangerous Minds. Now I have seen many an improbable vision of Education put on the screen but this school sure is something. At one point a Teacher is dragged through the halls by a galloping stallion high on crystal meth and is back in the classroom to teach later that day.

The film is pitched to the level of the television sitcom, with music cues taking the place of the laughter track. And besides being unfunny the film has two big mistakes. The first is Ice Cube's character who torments the geek played by Day. Comedy is so often derived from misunderstanding. Just think of how much laughter the Coen brothers got from mining nature of misfortune from the book of Job in the excellent A Serious Man. But here there is no misunderstanding and no nuance. Ice Cube's Strickland is simply just a maniac with a mindless grudge. Such a character belongs to the thriller tradition not to comedies. ice Cube can be an arresting actor, and can play angry with a comedic bent, but he is sold short with this misguided screenplay. The second mistake is the film's theme relating to conception of male self-worth. The violence is laughably excused with a few words before the credits about lack of funding to public schools or something.

Tracey Morgan and Julian Bell offer cheer in the supporting cast as the dim gym teacher and sex crazed headmistress respectively, and there is a cute joke about a Mariachi band but little more. Warner Brothers have supplied punching bags as promotional gimmicks in the theatres as a marketing gag, and on the way I duly obliged. Fist Fight is one to avoid.