‘Fist Fight’ provides a laugh or two for the viewer

By Gary Clift

There is at least one funny moment in the new film “Fist Fight” and at least one remarkably apt turn of a phrase.

Two teachers working the last day of the year at a Georgia high school are at odds with each other. To save his job, wimpy Campbell (Bob “Cat” Goldthwait follower Charlie Day) tells the principal that a student desk was destroyed by intense Strickland (Ice Cube). Strickland loses his job and challenges Campbell to an after school fight.

So the Guidance Counselor, a drug user and “inappropriate” admirer of male students, decides to run a conference between the two teachers to try to stop the fight. She has them meet her in the—get this—model U.N. room. That’s the funny moment.

The counseling doesn’t work. Campbell is already over-committed during the mid-afternoon and may be worried about how badly Strickland will hurt him. Perhaps these are the reasons for his call, made on the roof of the school, to a 911 operator. The operator tells him “I need you to…” calm down during their conversation.

“I need you to…” is such near-mandatory cop talk that the inclusion of the phrase, followed by evasion of the caller’s request for action, brings the viewer’s attention back to the film. It may have been drifting, waiting for a surprise in the film’s developments.

“Fist Fight” has lulled him to near-sleep, moving through the usual, almost classic developments any viewer would expect. How do filmmakers show that the school is a mess?

Well, they have the kids play pranks, show no respect for most adults, and demonstrate their interest in sex and drugs and computers. The students, working off-stage—paint up the principal’s car and bring it into the school’s hallways, where they have already spread baby oil on the floors. They’ve also got a horse and a mariachi band running around the school. The band was a good idea.

Social media” (whatever that is) helps spread the news of the upcoming fight. And at the same time, Campbell is negotiating an earlier annual hearing with the principal and superintendent to see if he’ll keep his job. He needs to get done so that he can perform, with his elementary school daughter, at a talent show.

But, really, most of the jokes are either references to sex (including the pictorial mowing and lining of the football field) and the routine use of words from the list of those which can’t be used in broadcasts. Cursing for comedy is such a tired, doddering concept that it is difficult to imagine anyone laughing.

In the end, “Fist Fight” tries to make itself into a film championing greater expenditure on school equipment (though this is hazy business) and a complaint against incompetent administration (though there isn’t a lot of evidence against the administrators). This late development of conscience seems forced. But it is better than letting the movie roll on as a straight and not very funny character piece.

I left the theater chuckling at the model U.N. business and thinking that the film’s sympathies were actually mostly with Strictland. If only he hadn’t been trying to show his class a video of a Ken Burns documentary. My educational experiences suggest the best teaching usually relies the least on technology.

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