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‘Fist Fight’ lacks punch

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Formulaic comedy takes a swing - and misses

Sometimes, you can just tell that a movie isn’t going to work. Sure, it might be a solid cast and there might be some good chuckles in the trailer, but deep down, you know that this one simply isn’t going to be good.

“Fist Fight” is just such a movie. Despite an intriguing cast – one that pairs Charlie Day (TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Ice Cube (you know who Ice Cube is) as its leads and features a weirdly fascinating collection of supporting talent – and a concept with some potential, the “meh” vibe that permeates the film is inescapable from the get-go.

And, well … it’s just not funny.

Day stars as Andy Campbell, an English teacher at an out-of-control Florida high school. It’s the last day of the school year, the day when the student body engages in increasingly elaborate and outlandish pranks (a device that is woefully underexploited throughout, I might add). The school’s many shortcomings have led to the faculty being subject to sweeping job cuts.

Through a series of circumstances that aren’t the least bit important, Andy crosses paths with rage-fueled history-teaching hardass Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube); the pair winds up in front of Principal Tyler (Dean Norris, “Secret in Their Eyes”), where Andy throws Strickland under the bus in an effort to save his own job.

So Strickland challenges him to a fight.

A justifiably-terrified Andy starts seeking help from whoever he can enlist – including the across-the-board inappropriate guidance counselor Holly (Jillian Bell, “Office Christmas Party”) and longtime loser Coach Crawford (Tracy Morgan, “The Night Before”) – in hopes of finding a way out of this jam and avoiding having to face the enraged Strickland in the parking lot after school.

That’s pretty much it.

“Fist Fight” could have been a decent comedy. There are enough pieces here to build something solid. Unfortunately, the folks behind the camera dropped the ball. It was the first feature effort from both director Richie Keen and screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser; that inexperience was readily apparent throughout. There’s plenty of sloppy storytelling and they kept a too-long leash on the actors, leading to some clearly improvised riffs that simply didn’t measure up.

In the right spot, Day can wield his inherent likeability like a comedic weapon. Unfortunately, he just comes off as milquetoast and generally ineffectual here. And while Ice Cube has successfully subverted his glowering persona to comic effect in the past, it never quite works here. The two just never quite click together as opposing forces, leaving much of the movie to flounder.

It’s nice to see Morgan working, but he doesn’t get a lot to do here. He’s fine, but the script doesn’t do him any favors. That goes double for Bell, who is far too talented to keep getting saddled with thankless roles such as this one. Norris plays a single growling note throughout, though it works slightly better for him than it does most of the others.

“Fist Fight” has some fairly funny moments – the climactic scene is actually pretty well done and there’s one ongoing bit involving a mariachi band that is delightful – but those moments are far too few for a film that needs you not to notice how paint-by-numbers it actually is. There’s a laziness to the attempts at humor, a willingness to simply pick off the low-hanging fruit. At just about every turn, this movie contents itself with taking the easy way out, the path of least resistance. You’ve seen this movie a dozen times or more; sure, the details might be slightly changed, but the structure is all too familiar.

Basically, “Fist Fight” is a comedy without enough laughs. And it’s too bad – some real potential was squandered here. Instead, we get a film that is too formulaic to be interesting; one that mistakes coarse language for subversion. It wants to be edgy, but instead is just kind of blah, leaving audiences no choice but to throw in the towel.

[1 out of 5]

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