In “Fist Fight,” a rowdy, vulgar, bloody action-comedy, Charlie Day and Ice Cube are knocked across the screen by assorted wallops, fire extinguisher blasts, head butts, billy clubs, hostile jailbirds, unruly students, nincompoop coworkers and runaway horses.
It is one of the most violent laugh fests in recent cinema. This unpredictable movie, directed by Richie Keen, destroys all traces of a plausible plot in favor of controlled chaos. And it is a rousing success.
Day plays teacher Andy Campbell, a milquetoast struggling through the last day of the school year amid cruel pranks by hundreds of disrespectful kids. It’s an awful job, but he’s afraid of losing it in the latest round of staff and budget cutbacks, so he’s willing to swallow any affront. He’s even belittled nonstop by the principal (Dean Norris).
His real nemesis enters the scene when he encounters his combustible colleague Strickland, a tower of arrogance played by Cube. Eager to please, Andy agrees to help Strickland stop a student from sabotaging the final day of class with a concealed smartphone. Collateral damage ensues, and the principal howls that one of the teachers will be fired immediately, after he decides who he despises more. One of the duo rats on the other to protect his job, and they prepare for a smackdown in the parking lot after school.
Andy will clearly have to reinvent himself as a badass to survive this battle, and the clever script largely concerns itself with his steep learning curve. But as the clock ticks down, Andy’s transformation swerves in increasingly uproarious directions. This movie knows how to be random, hectic and stupid effectively. Jillian Bell appears as a student counselor who is self-medicating with meth and lecherous fantasies about a hunky football player. Tracy Morgan is a coach, blithely ignorant of every assault the student body inflicts on him. Christina Hendricks has a field day as a teacher who uses a stiletto the way most use chalk.
The dialog is foulmouthed in funny ways, including a grade-school song and dance jubilee that pushes the film’s R rating to the edge.
This is a film with a threadbare premise that handles its actors and material with such assurance that it performs like a cockeyed jewel. Cube and Day have never before been so wonderfully silly. They push their conventional roles to the logical limit and beyond, skewering their own comedy résumés. Day’s sarcastic line readings hit every bull’s-eye, while Cube caricatures his swaggering brand of machismo pricelessly. They’re new men here, both as the characters and, more significantly, as comedians.
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material. 1:31. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.