Ac­tion-com­edy ‘Fist Fight’ is a rough, raunchy, rous­ing suc­cess

Texarkana Gazette - - ENTERTAINMENT/ADVICE - By Colin Covert

In “Fist Fight,” a rowdy, vul­gar, sur­pris­ingly bloody ac­tion-com­edy, hu­man punch­ing bags Char­lie Day and Ice Cube are knocked across the screen by as­sorted wal­lops, fire ex­tin­guisher blasts, head butts, ran­dom billy clubs, hos­tile jail­birds, of­fice ri­vals in the chaotic big city high school where they teach, unruly stu­dents, nin­com­poop co­work­ers and run­away horses.

Short of “Dead­pool,” it is one of the most vi­o­lent laugh fests in re­cent cinema. This quick, 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 English teacher Andy Camp­bell, a meek, mousy mil­que­toast strug­gling through the last day of the school year amid cruel se­nior pranks by hun­dreds of bored, dis­re­spect­ful kids. It’s a largely aw­ful job, but he’s afraid of los­ing it in the lat­est round of staff and bud­get cut­backs. With his wife, young daugh­ter and im­mi­nent new baby re­ly­ing on his job, he’s will­ing to swal­low any af­front. Even be­ing ig­nored and be­lit­tled non­stop by wrath­ful Prin­ci­pal Tyler (Dean Nor­ris of “Break­ing Bad” and “Big Bang The­ory,” ex­plod­ing in every scene like a short-cir­cuited 50-amp fuse). Andy is com­pe­tent but ut­terly lack­ing con­fi­dence.

His real neme­sis en­ters the scene when he has a rare en­counter with his com­bustible col­league Strick­land, a tower of tough guy ar­ro­gance played with full throt­tle frenzy by Cube. Awk­ward, anx­ious and ea­ger to please, Andy agrees to give his tech-savvy help to Strick­land against a stu­dent sab­o­tag­ing the fi­nal day of class with a con­cealed smart phone. Siz­able col­lat­eral dam­age en­sues, and the prin­ci­pal howls that one of the teach­ers will be ter­mi­nated 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 hot MMA beat­down in the park­ing lot after school.

It is clearly a bat­tle Andy will have to rein­vent him­self to sur­vive. The clever script largely con­cerns it­self with the tall learn­ing curve he must climb to be­ing a badass. But as the clock ticks down to the 3:30 bell, Andy’s trans­for­ma­tion story 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 her ca­reer burnout with meth and wildly lech­er­ous fan­tasies about a hunky mem­ber of the foot­ball team. Tracy Mor­gan is the team’s coach, blithely ig­no­rant of every as­sault the stu­dent body in­flicts on him. Christina Hen­dricks has a field day with a walk-on role as a teacher who uses a stiletto the way most use chalk. The di­a­log is cease­lessly foul­mouthed in very funny ways, in­clud­ing a grade-school song and dance ju­bilee that pushes the film’s R rat­ing (a strong selling point for come­dies) to the edge of the en­ve­lope. As for the mari­achi band that reap­pears at the ex­act mo­ments we’ve for­got­ten about its last ap­pear­ance, don’t ask.

This a case of a film with a thread­bare premise han­dling its ac­tors and ma­te­rial with such as­sur­ance that it per­forms like a cock­eyed jewel. Cube and Day have proven au­di­ence ap­peal, but I can’t think of a time when they have been so won­der­fully silly. They are cast in famil- iar roles, Day’s char­ac­ter per­pet­u­ally strug­gling against low self-es­teem, Cube barely con­trol­ling his hot­head rage. Here, they push those con­ven­tional roles to the log­i­cal limit and beyond, skew­er­ing their own com­edy re­sumes. Day’s sar­cas­tic line read­ings hit every bullseye, and his body lan­guage as he races from cri­sis to cri­sis shows that arms, legs and hips are all you need to be sidesplit- ting. Cube car­i­ca­tures his own swag­ger­ing brand of machismo price­lessly, leagues beyond his de­light­ful self-par­ody in the “21 Jump Street” movies. They’re new men here, both as the char­ac­ters and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, as co­me­di­ans.

‘FIST FIGHT’ 3.5 out of four stars. Rat­ing: R for lan­guage through­out, sex­ual con­tent/nu­dity and drug ma­te­rial.

Warner Bros. Pic­tures

n Ice Cube, right, and Char­lie Day are shown in a scene from "Fist Fight."

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