Imagine your high school’s senior prank day. If yours was anything like mine, you filled your calculus teacher’s classroom with a bunch of pet rocks named Steve or put a life-sized cardboard cutout of Pope Francis in the handicap bathroom stall. It’s all in good fun, right? Sometimes, not so much. Fist Fight takes senior prank day to a new extreme.
Amid the chaos of a senior prank day gone overboard, high school English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) struggles to keep his students civil and maintain a professional relationship with irritable history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube). While students pull over-the-top pranks, such as letting a cocaine-ridden horse on the loose in the hallways, Campbell attempts to teach, but is interrupted by Stickland. Hilarity ensues, culminating in the history teacher’s employment being terminated. In response, Strickland challenges Campbell to an old-fashioned fist fight after school.
Although Strickland feels one-dimensional and seems to only break out into unexplained fits of rage, Ice Cube portrays his character as convincingly as possible. However, I can’t help but think that he’s not doing much acting at all. Similarly, Day repeats his typical character role: a squeaky-voiced, frantic good guy caught in a sticky situation. Despite this typecasting, Campbell is more complex than Strickland. Subsequently, his acting becomes more believable. A pregnant wife, young daughter and high-school pranksters all contribute to his character’s depth and, though it takes a while, to allow Campbell to develop a more confident, assertive character.
Much of the supporting cast is on the rise to big screen recognition, including Jillian Bell (Holly) and JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Maggie). Viewers may recognize Hendricks as Joan Harris from television hit Mad Men, who seems to be redirecting her talents to the big screen. Although she only has a supporting role, Bell strikes me as the next Amy Schumer. She effectively and consistently delivers characters with a vulgar sense of humor, much like her depiction of goofy drug dealer Mercedes in 22 Jump Street. Her blank-face quips and dry confidence make it clear Bell has the potential to become a household name.
Fist Fight is, in essence, a slightly less funny 21 Jump Street: both feature well-intentioned adults comically wreaking havoc on a high school. The film begins with a few jokes that made me giggle, but nothing made me laugh-out-loud. The comedy was largely superficial, consisting of foolishly inappropriate jokes about drugs or sleeping with students, but the second half of the movie really turned it around for me. The film became more about character and plot development than a bland narrative linked by strung-together jokes. In fact, as the narrative progressed, the jokes became funnier. I found myself laughing for the last 30 minutes of the movie, especially during the final fight scene in which Campbell tries to fight the intimidating Strickland, despite a puddle of baby oil.