Overview: After an incident involving rebellious students, two high school teachers go head-to-head for an old-fashioned fist fight in the parking lot. Warner Bros.; 2017; Rated: R; 91 minutes.
The Angry Black Man: Fist Fight is a ham-fisted attempt to provide commentary on an underfunded education system and the damage it does to the teachers and students within that system. Instead, it reveals itself to be a film that takes some of the brightest stars in comedy and reduces them to one-dimensional, offensive stereotypes. Ice Cube’s character, tough-guy teacher Ronald Strickland, is initially positioned as the film’s villain. Strickland is a cartoonish Angry Black Man/Scary Black Man stereotype, complete with menacing stares, unreasonable outbursts of violence, and a demeanor that reads as rough-and-tumble. Sure, Fist Fight attempts to position this character as a tool to advance the semi-moral narrative and give smarmy weakling Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) some backbone, but it reads as pretty damn racist to me. Day’s performance feels as though he was trapped in an extended, and not-as-funny, version of the “Charlie Work” episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. From the meth-addled racehorses running throughout the hallways (because animal abuse is hysterical, right?) to the incompetent staff and truly endless dick references, Campbell’s frenzied behavior and attempts to manage his impending fight make the character feel akin to Charlie Kelly and Mac MacDonald smushed together and given about 50 more IQ points. The Always Sunny influence is clear, as Fist Fight director Richie Keen has directed 11 episodes in the series.
Normalizing Statutory Rape: In the film, a running joke occurs in the conversations between guidance counselor Holly (Jillian Bell) and Campbell (Day), in which Holly discusses over how much she lusts after a particular male student and his “teenis.” The joke is continued throughout the film, including comments about how “the news always leaves out the good part: They never tell how the teacher does the seduction.” Despite the student character in the film being of legal age, Bell’s line about teacher-student seduction turned a bad movie into an offensive and dangerous one. Considering the recent fallout surrounding Milo Yiannopolous’s comments about the “arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent,” or his opinion that the teachers who have relationships with young teenage students are the victims, not the students, these jokes seem even more tasteless and disturbing. Fist Fight is a 91-minute barrage of rude, dumb jokes, but never in my life have I seen a movie filled with crude humor stoop to the point of statutory rape jokes. If that’s now considered fodder for jokes, and poorly written ones at that, then I suppose I won’t be going to see comedies anymore. Not only does Fist Fight make light of an extremely traumatic event, the film then shows Bell and her object of desire kissing, with the implication that they will go and hook up. Again, despite the character being a legal adult, it’s indicated that Bell’s character is into her students because they are teenagers, which presents underlying messages that normalize female teachers romancing much younger male students. To say this joke is vile is an understatement, and I for one refuse to accept that rape and abuse jokes are fair game for any film.
When reaching for humor, Fist Fight doesn’t go for the high road. In fact, if there was a road that ran beneath the sewers, I’d say that’s the one that Fist Fight takes. Stars like Tracey Morgan and Kumail Nanjiani are criminally underused in roles that appear as if they were written the night before the movie started to shoot. Ice Cube and Charlie Day, two stars with their own unique brand of comedy, could’ve starred in an excellent and intelligent film about the public school system, but instead perform shock-value-laden antics that result in an insulting waste of money. In a way, Fist Fight is a movie where its stars are showing that they have the money and clout to make a film that is an absolute garbage dump of a plot and script, and you’ll still go see it because they’re famous and can do whatever they want.
Overall: Though it never sold itself as being the next Manchester By The Sea, I expected more from Fist Fight, and hope that those attached to the project might take their audience’s intelligence, time, and respect into consideration when working on a comedy.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures