Friday 17 March 2017

Fist Fight (2017) - Movie Review

Seeing everything that I can at the cinemas means that, whether I like it or not, I’m gonna have to subject myself to crap. I’ve come to terms with that; it’s part of the “job” description and the hate I end up generating serves its own therapeutic purpose. However, today’s film is an odd one with that in mind… in that I have been actively putting off watching this thing for a while now.
Maybe it’s because I know how Ice Cube movies of late usually turn out, maybe it’s because I have already shown a certain dislike for most of Charlie Day’s live-action filmography, or maybe the trailer just looked like garbage from the premise alone. For whatever reason, I kept postponing going out to see this one. Of course, emulating the feeling of those anxiously waiting for the appointment for their emasculation, I just wanted to get it over and done with because I’m fairly certain that the wait is going to be far worse than the act itself. And speaking of intense pain, let’s get into this thing already

The plot: On the last day of school, with senior pranks happening all over the place, teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) just wants to make it to the end of the day so he can help out his daughter’s talent show performance. Unfortunately, he finds himself on the bad side of hard-nosed history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), to the point where he challenges Campbell to a fist fight in the parking lot after school finishes. As news spreads of the fight, between students and teachers alike, Campbell has two options: Find a way out of the fight or get thrashed by Strickland.

You know you’re in for a weird sit when Tracy Morgan is easily the most consistently funny person here. Seriously. Day is okay but he’s mainly stuck in panicked jabbering mode for most of the film and the schtick gets tired really friggin’ quickly. Morgan as the sports coach and Jillian Bell as the school counsellor basically serve as Campbell’s anti-cheer squad, and again Morgan is pretty good but only by comparison. Specifically, by comparison to Bell’s constant references to drug use and ogling the male students. Because it’s still funny if a woman’s being the sexual predator, right?
Christina Hendricks shows up for only a few moments, which kind of sucks because her psycho-vengeful routine might have brought some actual laughs if the filmmakers had the common sense to use it properly. Kym Whitley is incredibly obnoxious as a bitchy 911 operator, Dean Morris as the principal is grumpy to the point of blandness and Kumail Nanjiani as the security head is decent but nowhere as memorable as his role in Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates. As for Ice Cube, he’s actually one of the more dependable presences here, playing up his character’s uber-aggression to surprisingly solid ends.

The comedy is admittedly a lot better than I was expecting going solely on the premise… but it’s still not all that good. The absence of the usual wacky similes is appreciated but this film still comes across as a bit desperate for laughs at times, starting nicely with the setting of senior prank season. Now, the most I ever ended up doing during this time was a few flour bombs, but I’ve seen some pretty decent pranks in my time. About half of the ones here even qualify in that regard. 
Yeah, we get some good efforts like paint bomb tripwires but otherwise, it’s pretty tame shit. Parking in a teacher’s space, Silly String in the principal’s desk drawers, a dick being mowed into the football field lawn that was apparently so good that it needed not one but two follow-ups? When the film is built around amped-up ridiculousness, this is a poor effort. Then there’s the dialogue, which ranges from ramblings meant to fill up the line-a-rama to asides where the other characters explain the joke we just saw. Or, worse yet, an aside from the character directly involved reiterating what we just saw them say on-screen. Because Ice Cube struggling to use a coffee machine so desperately needed to be elaborated on, apparently.

That said, it’s not all awful and the best parts come from when it actually focuses on the titular throwdown. This is where Ice Cube’s casting really makes some waves as his very no-bullshit attitude makes for a very engaging performance, and he works as a good straight-man for the nonsense going on around him. His intimidation in this scenario in and of itself becomes funny after a while, nicely offsetting Day’s high-pitched whining for the most part. This comes to a head once we get to the actual fight and, for all the build-up the film gives it, it’s a pretty cool sequence. Decent use of school equipment to do some damage, nice choreography and plenty of “damn!” moments to go around.
Of course, its overall impact is dampened by how it tries to wrap this “American school system sucks!” message around it, in effect giving the main conceit some form of grander relevance. Rather than anything noteworthy, it just feels like the film is trying to give a justification, any justification, for what we are seeing; much like the majority of pranksters we see, it is weak. Besides, when it comes to showing a dead-end school where violence is the only way anything gets resolved, this film’s no Crows Zero.

Well, here’s a bright side I never would have saw coming: The soundtrack is bloody fantastic! Given a good bedrock by composer Dominic Lewis, featuring a lot of bombastic metal to set up the epic fight (featuring RATM drummer Brad Wilk throughout), there’s also some excellent uses of licensed tracks here too. Laisse Tomber Les Filles (or Chick Habit for you Death Proof fans) as Monet’s entrance theme, RTJ’s Lie Cheat Steal set against one of Andy’s less admirable moments, a pretty awesome Big Sean moment involving the talent show, a Prodigy/Public Enemy collab to conclude the fight that is just about the most epic thing ever, a rendition of Crossroad Blues by Tom fucking Morello, even the use of hip-hop bangers by Onyx, Kool Keith and LL Cool J; this is the kind of music you want as the backdrop for something this drenched in off-beat testosterone. This film may fall short in quite a few respects, but if nothing else, it has a soundtrack that I can already tell will be a high watermark for this year’s output.

All in all, I certainly didn’t hate this as much as I was expecting but don’t mistake that for this being out-and-out good. While I like some of the jokes and the frankly incredible use of music on display here, most of the actors are either far too annoying or far too underutilized to be of much help when getting through these very pissweak jokes. It’s lame and rather annoying, but I’d be lying if I said that I absolutely hated it. If nothing else, I’ll always have the soundtrack.

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