Review – The First Rule of High School Fight Club… (“Fist Fight”)

This is one of those “cartoon universe” movies like the Fast and the Furious franchise where all sense, logic, and normal people don’t exist. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. The entire Monty Python universe is made up of this and rank #1 on my list of comedy masterminds.

It’s the last day at Roosevelt High School and things are getting weird: the senior pranks have gotten WAY outta hand (horses in the hallway, trip-wires with paint canisters) and two teachers are at a collision course over a misunderstanding. Spineless dweeb Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) teaches English and, while helping out the scariest teacher in the school, he accidentally gets on his bad side (like he has a good side). That teacher is Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), with a permanent scowl on his face and always pissed-off about something.

The emotionally distressed principal (the hilarious Dean Norris) fires Strickland for chopping up a kids desk up with a fire axe. Ron blames Andy and challenges him to a fight after school in the parking lot at 3pm. Fearing for his life, Campbell tries to get help from his looney fellow teachers: the mentally several-tacos-short-of-a-combo-plate school counselor Holly (Jillian Bell), who seems to have an unhealthy fetish for young teen boys and Coach Crawford (Tracy Morgan), who is the losing-est coach in their history. Plus, Andy has problems at home with his very pregnant and loving wife (JoAnna Garcia–a dead ringer for Amy Adams) and his little daughter Ally (Alexa Nisenson), who is supposed to be in a talent show that afternoon with dear ‘ol dad.

With no help in sight from anyone (even a 911 call laughs at him), Campbell resorts to crazy means to stop the impending fight, like bribing a student into lying about the axe incident, trying to get Ron his job back, and even planting drugs on Strickland that backfires. With so much chaos going on and mounting pressure building, something has to snap. And it does: Campbell grows a backbone and decides to go through with the fight, but not before putting a few things right in his life.

The fight is a HUGE event, with a massive crowd (sure to go viral) and Campbell, hopelessly outmatched, getting into a ridiculously long knock-down, drag-out fight worthy of the one from Any Which Way But Loose, where any normal human would have died (or been severely injured) in the first five minutes. Yes, it has your typical happy ending, but you knew that already. The strength of this preposterous story lies in its writing and actors to pull it off. Thankfully, you have a decent script by Van Robichaux & Evan Susser who, believe it or not, have never written a movie screenplay before! They must’ve  watched the movies Big Bully and Three O’clock High and decided to mash them together. Nice going, guys!

The first-time movie director here is Richie Keen, known for his TV work on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Angie Tribeca, so he knows his comedy timing and where to put the camera. There was so much that could have gone wrong with this movie, as it teetered on the edge and pulled through, even with a cornucopia full of lame dick jokes, F-bombs galore, offensive sight gags, and more than your usual amount of pedophilia jokes. Still, with all that, it’s has some very funny moments like a quick montage of Strickland’s imagined past that is hilarious, 10-year-old Ally singing a filthy rap song, and Jillian Bell’s dead-pan comedic delivery.

Day is terrific as the nebbish little dork that is having the worst day of his life and slowly degenerates into a mass of stuttering nervousness. Ice Cube, mostly all growls and scowls, is just having fun being all bad-ass. It’s also great to see Tracy Morgan back on screen after many years, and check out the brief appearance of Kumail Nanjuani as the school security guard.

Big Bully (1996)

Two teachers going at each other? Gotcha covered with this dismally unfunny film from director Steve Miner who gave us such hysterical movies like Soul Man and Forever Young and screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson, who gave us the oh-so memorable LOL films like Jack Frost and Grumpier Old Men. (that was sarcasm, BTW).
For little David Leary growing in Hastings, Minnesota, life bites. He’s got a large bully nicknamed “Fang” that constantly harasses him in school and in town, and it looks like nobody cares two cents about his troubles… not even the old principal at school (Don Knotts). However, that all changes one glorious day when David anonymously turns in Roscoe “Fang” Bigger to the police for stealing a moon rock that was on display at school. Fang goes off to reform school and David gets uprooted to Oakland where he grows up to be an unsuccessful writer and single father to bratty pre-teen, Ben (Blake Bashoff).
Happenstance comes David’s (Rick Moranis) way and he’s hired to be a creative writing teacher back home in Hastings but, naturally, his son hates it. In fact, Ben hates it so much at his new school that he starts to bully a little bespectacled kid named Kirby (Cody McMains). Now a teacher, David finds his old school heartthrob, Victoria (Julianne Phillips) teaching sex education there as well. BUT! Also teaching there is grown-up Roscoe (Tom Arnold), a timid and repressed shop teacher who, once he finds out that is ol’ punching bag is back as a fellow teacher, snaps and reverts back to his old wicked, nasty, bullying ways.
While Ben is picking on Kirby (and David doesn’t even care about it!) David and Roscoe are going at each other with Roscoe dolling out vicious pranks. David tries to complain to the same old school principal and a very nervous science teacher (Curtis Armstrong), but he gets no help. Things escalate to the point where the pranks become lethal and the two end up trying to kill each other, but after a confusing ending that quickly (and forcefully) reconciles the warring pair. David and Roscoe finally make up, Ben and David make up, and everyone’s happy. Smiley face.
First off, to make bullying laughable isn’t funny; it just isn’t. The script meanders all over the map and never finds a footing with a plethora of plot holes, secondary characters that go nowhere, and bizarre choices in character development. It feels like this was a first draft that was never tweaked or polished properly with only a scant few jokes making their mark. This was not Moranis’ best effort and, given the horrible script he had to do, he left Hollywood forever only a year later. The movie was DOA at the box office as well, not only being skewered by the critics, but Arnold got the Razzie Award for Worst Actor. Did he deserve it? Oh, yeah!

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