Sparse laughs assail thin sketches in comedy 'Fist Fight'

The insipid high school comedy "Fist Fight" celebrates and exploits the very ideas that it should be ridiculing for comic effect, such as childish, lying, self-centered adults solving problems with a violent confrontation staged as an after-school reality...

Sparse laughs assail thin sketches in comedy 'Fist Fight'

The insipid high school comedy "Fist Fight" celebrates and exploits the very ideas that it should be ridiculing for comic effect, such as childish, lying, self-centered adults solving problems with a violent confrontation staged as an after-school reality TV event.

Successful comedies ride tidal waves of Zeitgeist. "Fist Fight" gets crushed by them.

"Fist Fight"

The plot has clearly been inspired by Phil Joanou's stylish 1987 high school comedy, "Three O'Clock High," a sendup of Fred Zinnemann's 1952 Western "High Noon."

Instead of Joanou's after-school showdown between a nerd and a bully, "Fist Fight" features a faceoff between two teachers: milquetoast English instructor Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and volatile, at-the-end-of-his-emotional-rope instructor Ron Strickland (Ice Cube).

As the school year closes at Roosevelt High School, senior pranks have spiraled out of control, turning hapless administrators such as Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) into shellshocked victims.

After one prank too many, Ron cracks, grabs a baseball bat and destroys the desk of the young perpetrator.

Andy reports what he witnessed, so Ron gets fired. He challenges Andy to a fist fight in the parking lot after school, apparently to defend the honor he doesn't possess.

"Snitches get stitches!" Ron growls.

One thing not in stitches, the audience.

It's hard to imagine that first-time feature director Richie Keen, a Highland Park native, and Day, who worked so well together in the FX TV series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," would create such a sputtering series of thin sketches.

"Fist Fight" might have earned audacious creative points by going against type and giving Day the role of the pugilistic hothead, and Cube the part of the shrill, Don Knotts reincarnation. But the casting, like the dialogue and randy, R-rated setups, never ventures out of the project's formulaic safety zone.

No matter, nobody should write off Keen, a Northwestern University grad, on the basis of this one movie.

In 1982, another TV sitcom guru and Northwestern grad named Garry Marshall directed his first comedy feature, a giant R-rated dud titled "Young Doctors in Love," suffering from the same narrative deficiencies as "Fist Fight." Marshall adapted to the new format quickly.

Even as "Fist Fight" founders in funlessness, the supporting cast struggles to push it along, with Tracy Morgan as cowed Coach Crawford (his first movie after his near-fatal 2014 accident in New Jersey), Jillian Bell as a meth (not Method) teacher waiting for cute male students to hit legal age, and Christina Hendricks as a knife-wielding French instructor.

"You think this is funny?" Ron growls to a student. "I'll show you what's funny!"

But he never gets around to it.

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