You can tell me “Fist Fight” is a live-action, R-rated cartoon, and I shouldn’t take any of it literally.
You can tell me “Fist Fight” is a subversive, edgy satire using dark comedy to make a legit point about the state of our public education system.
You can tell me “Fist Fight” is just a comedy, so what’s with the lethal, zero-stars review? It can’t be THAT horrible, can it?
I could tell you to sit through “Fist Fight” and then get back to me — but I like you, so I’m not going to urge you to subject yourself to 91 minutes of cinematic detention that felt twice as long and was so ugly, so mean-spirited, so bereft of laughs, I found myself rooting for a technical malfunction if only to catch a momentary breather.
People often ask me if I’ve ever walked out of a movie. I won’t do that, because it’s my job to stick around until the bitter end and do my best to tell you why I love or loathe or have mixed feelings about a film.
Had I been attending “Fist Fight” as a non-critic, any number of scenes might well have catapulted me out of my seat and out the door.
• How about the very setup of the movie, which has Ice Cube playing the snarling, violent, angry black teacher who challenges Charlie Day’s sniveling, wimpy, spineless milquetoast teacher to a fight after school? Stereotype much with these main characters?
• Then there’s the lascivious, meth-addicted female guidance counselor (Jillian Bell) who talks openly about lusting after male students. She can’t wait until one hottie turns 18 and is legal. Hilarious.
• Meanwhile, the coach/gym teacher (Tracy Morgan) is an absolute idiot who says he’s trying his best not to impregnate any of the mothers of his students and is oblivious to the pranks being pulled on his football field. (Because of course there’s football practice on the last day of school. Huh?)
• Another teacher (Christina Hendricks) threatens to slash the throat of the wimpy teacher. The principal (Dean Norris) is a hapless boob.
And we haven’t even talked about the horse running through the hallways. (Let’s keep it that way.)
“Fist Fight” seems inspired, if that’s the word, by “Three O’Clock High,” the 1987 black comedy about a bully who challenges a meek student to a fight in the parking lot after school.
On the last day of the school year, the students are apparently allowed to do just about anything with immunity. They destroy property, they write obscene messages on blackboards (why are the teachers still delivering lectures on the last day of school?), they destroy the principal’s car, they conduct elaborate pranks that leave their teachers covered in paint and otherwise humiliated.
In anything approaching the real world, these kids wouldn’t be allowed to graduate — because they’d be too busy bonding out.
(And by the way, this is the least threatening bunch of high school thugs and punks in recent movie history. Most of them look like they just finished auditioning for “Glee: The Next Generation.”)
Charlie Day, he of the kinetic energy and high-pitched voice, plays mild-mannered English teacher Andy Campbell, whose wife is about to give birth (cliché alert!). Meanwhile, their precocious but shy daughter (Alexa Nisenson) is nervous about performing at the school talent show that afternoon (ring the bell for another cliché alert!).
Ice Cube snarls and growls his way through the part of Ron Strickland, who literally knocks over a bookshelf and takes an axe to a desk when his students dare act up. When Andy rats out Ron to the principal and Ron is fired, Ron tells Andy, “Snitches get stitches!” and he challenges Andy to a fight in the parking lot after school.
Everyone thinks this is hilarious. The creepy junior felons who make up the student body go viral with social media gossip about the fight. Andy’s fellow teachers are such dim clowns, they’re of no help. When Andy calls 911 to report the impending violence, the operators all gather around the switchboard and laugh uproariously at Andy’s plight.
Before we get to the big finale, Andy rushes to his daughter’s school just in time to — well, suffice to say, the attempt to do something new with the old dad-racing-to-get-to-the-play-on-time scene is an execrable, embarrassing mess.
In fact, nearly all of the humor in the build-up to the fight is broad and ugly — and then it gets much, much worse. With hundreds of students practically frothing at the mouth from bloodlust excitement, Andy and Ron pound the living hell out of one another.
I know how they felt.
New Line Cinema presents a film directed by Richie Keen and written by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser. Rated R (for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material). Running time: 91 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.