“Fist Fight,” starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day as rival teachers at failing Roosevelt High School, resembles plot-wise a movie called “Joe Somebody,” in which Tim Allen played a milquetoast middle manager who winds up challenging his bullying colleague Patrick Warburton to a rematch after being humiliated in front of his daughter in the parking lot on Take Your Child to Work Day. When Charlie attempts to pull into his assigned parking spot at school only to be thwarted by a smart alecky guy, I thought, “Hmm, they’re not even trying to be original.” However, that’s just one in a series of incidents that add fuel to the simmering fire, and have the expected cumulative effect on Charlie over the course of the day. The movie also echoes “Big Bully,” in which Rick Moranis (playing a creative writing teacher) faces off against childhood nemesis Tom Arnold and tries to excuse his regressive behavior by complaining that Tom shot peas at him in the cafeteria. “Fist Fight,” is a raunchier version of both movies, but unlike the others, all the juvenile behavior displayed by the adult cast has to be squeezed within the time span of a school day. And there is a lot of it. Plus a talent show and a character (Charlie’s wife, JoAnna Garcia Swisher) who is about to give birth any minute, so you can rest assured there will be high jinks galore.
The fun begins when Charlie arrives in the teachers’ lounge, only to discover that his colleagues are dreading the upcoming interviews as their jobs are rumored to be on the chopping block. These include guidance counselor, Jillian Bell (who does meth before school and longs to sleep with a jock in a letterman jacket), and gym teacher, Tracy Morgan (who has brought long pants for the occasion). When history teacher Ice Cube stalks in, the trio trembles in fear, but nothing serious happens – that comes later when Charlie attempts to help Ice Cube with the archaic VCR he must use to show a film in class, and a student attempts to prank them. This leads to Charlie squealing to save his job at Ice Cube’s expense, and Ice Cube not being too happy, as he tells Charlie he’ll be waiting for him after school because “snitches get stitches.” As Ice Cube has a formidable reputation (he helped take down the Hussein brothers), Charlie tries everything he can to get out of this predicament, which, of course, only makes things worse. Eventually, of course, we discover that Ice Cube has an ulterior motive for challenging Charlie – he wants to show the students that actions have consequences, and also, hopefully, put pressure on the school board to start addressing its problems. Before the day ends, the two will end up at the police station, their fight will go viral, Charlie’s daughter will increase her self-esteem, and Charlie will become a new dad.
This movie got three stars at Roger Ebert’s site, one more than “A Cure for Wellness,” which I considered seeing instead, so I went with this. It wasn’t quite as funny as I expected, but the cast does a great job, although seriously, how can there exist a school today that would condone Ice Cube’s disciplinary measures? But if you don’t mind raw language (including from Charlie’s preteen daughter), lots of sitcom-esque misunderstandings and over-the-top pranking, it’s not bad. Ice Cube gets in a pop culture reference when he spits, “(Expletive) the police,” but my favorite secondary character line is Jillian Bell when, upon witnessing a rocky stretch of the title fight snarks, “First one to die, haunts the school!”