On the last day of the year, mild-mannered high school English teacher Andy Campbell (Day) is trying his best to keep it together amidst senior pranks, a dysfunctional administration and budget cuts that put jobs on the line. But things go from bad to worse when he accidentally crosses his much tougher and deeply feared colleague, Ron Strickland (Cube), who challenges Campbell to an old-fashioned throw down after school. News of the fight spreads like wildfire and ends up becoming the very thing this school, and Campbell, needed.
Fist Fight also stars Tracy Morgan ("30 Rock"), Jillian Bell ("22 Jump Street"), Dean Norris ("Breaking Bad"), Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men"), Dennis Haysbert ("The Unit"), and JoAnna Garcia Swisher ("The Astronaut Wives Club").
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, we had a few improv comedians that brought their comedy to the big screen. We had the late, great Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor. Most of their films were based on an extremely simple premise which allowed the actor to do his off the cuff comedy that everyone loved at the time. Today it seems like everyone has a chance at the improv game, and their inexperience drives enough jokes into the ground so that we end up on the other side of the world, making the movie seem meaningless. Fist Fight has a whole slew of comedians that all seem to be competing for the improv trophy of the year award. But does that mean it’s just as meaningless as most comedies today?
Charlie Day plays Andy Campbell, an overly PC pushover high school teacher that takes everything his students dish out, and that’s saying a lot because it’s also the last day of school and the seniors are going absolutely insane. I’m talking mariachi bands and horses running through the halls hopped up on drugs kind of insane. In fact, all the teachers are so afraid of these kids that they act like there is absolutely nothing to do about the chaos, except for my man Ice Cube, who plays Strickland. During his first class of the day, he gets to the point where he has had enough of these kids and takes an axe to a student's desk to even the score with these heathens. Andy is actually in the room and witnesses the insanity. When questioned about it, he throws Strickland under the bus and as a result, gets him fired. But this is Ice Cube and if he ain’t afraid of the police, he like hell ain’t afraid of a stammering Charlie Day. So, you know Strickland is going to challenge Andy to a good ol' fashion school fight at 3PM as soon as the bell rings.
Now, for a lesser comedy that would be the catalyst for the improv and zany situational humor, and very little character development to speak of until the end scene where they go for an unearned heartfelt moment. Fist Fight very much has that improvisational quality, replete with situational humor, but there is a clear arch for Andy and for Strickland that makes this movie stick out to me. As Strickland points out, Andy is spineless; he threw Strickland under the bus and, as they say, “snitches get stitches.” But the audience gets to see Andy getting a spine and stick up for himself in the hours leading up to his big fight. Even with Strickland, I can actually relate to the guy, and even somewhat agree with his unconventional methods of discipline. These kids are doing everything but setting the school ablaze, he is the only one sticking up for the staff, and he got thrown under the bus for it. These are thorough lines for these characters that elevate Fist Fight above most comedies these days.
Unfortunately, performances are all over the place and it harms the film quite a bit. I actually love Ice Cube here, and I feel like this is a perfect vehicle for his hard as nails bulldog persona. On the other hand, Charlie Day did well with the improv but grated on me at times with his high-pitched stammering. A character that I never warmed up to was Jillian Bell's Holly. She plays the typical inappropriate guidance counselor, but she never knew when to end a joke. It ended up feeling like she was more or less nudging me in the ribs, constantly trying to convince me she was funny. No actually, instead, I will fall to the ground wincing in pain. Add in another underwhelming performance from Christina Hendricks.
Like the two leads, Fist Fight leaves me fighting with myself. On one hand, here is a comedy that isn't just a series of gags strung together to make a film. There are some real character arcs here. But on the other hand, there is some bad acting here and some of the situational humor seems to go on for too long. In the end, Fist Fight feels more like a first fight. Despite landing a few good punches, it doesn’t quite know what it is doing yet.
The Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Warner Brothers brings Fist Fight to Blu-ray with a slipcover to hardcover casing, opening up to a BD-50 Blu-ray, DVD copy, and an Ultraviolet Digital HD download. Surprisingly there is only a skippable advertisement for 4K Ultra HD before being presented with a still image main menu.
Fist Fight lands a whopping blow on Blu-ray with a 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode that packs one hell of a punch. Shot digitally on an Arri Alexa camera, the cinematography here is gorgeous in every way. The clarity here is absolutely incredible and stands up with the best transfers on the format. Detail work is amazing also, from every speck showing up on Charlie Day's outdated felt suit to the devastation of the school itself. Color levels are as bright and as vibrant as I have ever seen, providing a deeply pleasing palette.
Framed at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, there is deep dimensionality here with simple shots of characters popping out of the background, providing a level of dimensionality that is rare to see. Even white and black levels are spot on. There is no doubt that Cinematographer Erick Edwards has put forth his best work here in a film that doesn’t quite deserve a reference transfer of this caliber.
Fist Fight delivers a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that fares a lot better than I initially expected. This isn't your usual front-heavy comedy affair. Surrounds provide back up for the score along with more notable bursts of action. So, when a drugged horse runs through the school halls it is a more impactful moment, that almost makes you forget how ridiculous the prank actually is.
The LFE track is also put to good use in many instances, such as during the epic final fight, or when a mariachi band just so happens to follow the principal around the school. Dialogue is easily audible at a generous volume. You get more than you bargain for in the audio department with Fist Fight even if it isn't the reference quality that its video counterpart has to offer.
Deleted Scenes (HD 15:23) - A collection of eleven deleted scenes that feature a lot more ad-libbing and extended scenes that run jokes into the ground like you would expect the actual movie to do. This actually leads me to believe the person to thank for the fact that this doesn't occur in the film is the editor who was smart enough to cut some gags short.
Fist Fight is not the disastrous film it is touted as being. It has a good arc for its leads that doesn't happen in most modern-day comedies that I wouldn't consider “phoney baloney.” Some of the pranks the seniors play are truly funny. Ice Cube was, for the first time in his career, my favorite actor in the movie. The actual fight was actually the best scene in the movie and lived up to its name. But even though the “comedy” doesn't overstay its welcome, it has no focus and feels frantic at times. There are weird tangents where the movie diverts itself just for a cheap joke. And lastly, performances here are all over the place and lack a cohesive structure. This movie severely needed a stronger director to reign this cast in and keep them all on the same page. As it stands, Fist Fight feels like it is the guy in a fight that flails Its arms around frantically hoping to land a punch. But if you are a fan of comedies over the past couple of years, then you will get a reference quality video transfer along with a great audio mix that makes this release more of a value.