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‘Chick Fight’ can’t go the distance

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There’s a long tradition of mining the struggles of women to self-actualize for comedic purposes. Functioning in a world whose rules are stacked against you in many ways is difficult, and there’s often humor to be found in difficulty. Sometimes, this humor is subtle, but most of the time, it’s pretty overt.

“Chick Fight” definitely falls into that latter category. The comedy – directed by Paul Leyden from a script by Joseph Downey – is ostensibly about a woman’s efforts to get her life on track couched in her inadvertent membership in a fight club for women looking for ways to functionally express their more robust emotions. But while there’s potential here for a deeper dive, the filmmakers seem content to pay lip service to the fundamental concerns while focusing on the broader comic aspects of the concept.

That’s not a condemnation of the movie, per se – “Chick Fight” actually has some pretty funny moments. It’s an entertaining enough watch in its way. Unfortunately, it’s tough to ignore the whiff of squandered potential; this is a movie that could have been funny AND had something of note to say. Alas, it seems far more concerned with the former than the latter.

Anna (Malin Akerman, “Friendsgiving”) is dealing with a lot these days. She’s behind on all of her bills and her coffee shop business is floundering. Plus, her dad Ed (Kevin Nash, “Klippers”) has come out as bisexual and everything she thought she knew about her world is being called into question. She’s lost and feeling powerless.

An opportunity to chance all that comes when Anna’s best friend Charlene (Dulce Sloan, TV’s “The Daily Show”) decides to introduce her to a whole new circle. Specifically, to the club – a warehouse that has been converted into a place where women can deal with their personal issues in a very primal and physical way.

A fight club.

The club is run by Bear (Fortune Feimster, TV’s “Bless the Harts”) in order to help women deal with the pressures of their lives in immediate, visceral ways, removed from the expectations that society places upon them. Everything is strictly monitored and safe – there’s even a doctor on hand, Bear’s brother Roy (Kevin Connolly, TV’s “The Oath”) – though there is a contingent of new members, led by the vicious Olivia (Bella Thorne, “Infamous”), that is less about the club and more about the fight.

But when Anna inadvertently finds herself in the crosshairs of these joyfully brutal newcomers, she’s forced to prepare for a fight. The problem? She doesn’t know how. She needs a trainer and winds up in the booze-soaked hands of Murphy (Alec Baldwin, “Pixie”), a local legend who worked with some famous clients back in the day. Even as the rest of her life seems to be crumbling, the club gives Anna some focus, some purpose. And when she learns the secret of the club’s origins, it only becomes clearer that she needs to keep fighting, even as the odds against her seem to grow ever longer.

“Chick Fight” is one of those comedies that never quite clicks. While there are some solid jokes and a few hints at female empowerment, the pieces fail to fully fit together. Ironically, the biggest issue with the movie is the fact that it doesn’t hit hard enough; if the film had leaned more heavily on the themes instead of contenting itself with slapstick physicality and slo-mo fight scenes, there might have been more of a spark to it.

In a lot of respects, the filmmakers basically just slapped a dress and a smile on “Fight Club” and called it a day. But while some of this stuff works – the fight scenes are actually pretty good, as are the training montages – it’s not enough to elevate the proceedings to match the film’s potential.

It isn’t the fault of the cast. Malin Akerman has a gift for exuding likeability – it’s difficult not to root for her, making her an ideal fit for a film like this one. She gamely does her best to charm her way through the tonal and thematic inconsistency … and comes closer than she has any right to. Sloan brings a wonderfully anarchic energy to the screen; she’s a chaos agent in the best way. In a (maybe inadvertent?) way, the thinness of Connolly’s character is reflective of the non-agency of female characters in male-driven movies of this ilk; he’s a shoulder shrug. Feimster is a big loud delight, as she usually is.

Thorne continues to surprise; she’s actually quite good here, convincing as an aspiring alpha looking to embrace her own vicious physicality. Nash is kind of a hoot; the former WWE wrestler has shown a gift for comedy in the past, so it’s nice to see him get some run. And Baldwin attempts to push his usual smugness beneath a boozy veneer, but there’s a fundamental Alec Baldwin-ness that he appears no longer able to fully conceal. Still, it mostly works.

“Chick Fight” isn’t terrible. Honestly, it wound up being better than I initially expected. The performances are good, the fight scenes surprisingly well-executed and some of the jokes are pretty solid. But there’s a general feeling of absence here, a notable lack of thematic follow-through. A little more focus on the empowerment angle would have gone a long way. It could have been a knockout, but instead, it’s a split decision.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2020 11:03

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