Movie Review: “Fist Fight” barely lands a punch

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“Fist Fight” offers us Charlie Day in a leading role in all his screeching glory.

And who the hell wants to see that? Or hear it?

It’s “Bad Teacher” meets “Three O’Clock High,” an “edgy” comedy about an anarchically dysfunctional school where the kids run riot and the teachers are hapless bystanders.

Except for Mr. Strickland, played by Ice Cube in Full Scowl. Strickland’s a short-tempered tyrant who has had about enough of this chaos, where the last day of the year means “senior pranks” run amok and Atlanta school district layoffs.

So yeah, he snaps. Just a little. And at a punk who has it coming.

But he left an adult witness. That would be Mr. Campbell, played by “It’s Always Screechy in Philadelphia” star Day. And when push comes to shove and both their jobs are at stake, Campbell — a day with an indulged daughter and a baby on the way — isn’t going to take the fall for Strickland.

“Snitches get stitches,” growls Strickland. And it’s on. Or will be, when the bell rings at three. That’s when the beefy, bitter Strickland plans to give the scrawny screecher a serious beat-down.

As in “Three O’Clock High,” the movie is about the countdown to facing down a bully, and Campbell’s frantic efforts to defuse the situation, remove Strickland from the building and keep his job. He tries bargaining, trickery and treachery. Nothing works.

But there’s little tension or comic build-up, as we’re treated to advice from the scatter-brained PE coach (Tracy Morgan, trotting out who he’s going to get “pregnant” jokes…again), the meth addict/underage student craving math teacher (Jillian Bell of “The Night Before”), a French teacher who hates Campbell for all the wrong reasons (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks) and worthless clock-punching school security guard (Kumail Nanjiani of “Portlandia” and “Silicon Valley”) .

The kids? They carve images of penises on the football field, watch porn and masturbate in the bathrooms. Until word of the fight gets out, and then they’re all about making this coming beat-down viral.

Cube is very good at wearing a scowl, first scene to last, and Strickland — a techno-phobic, arrested development thug who sees himself as a last line of accountability to these unruly students, is almost believable. Campbell is not an unreasonable creation, either. Grown men don’t settle things with their fists.

But they do. Because that’s the title of the movie, and we know exactly where it’s headed and when we’ll get there.

The one saving grace in the flaccid direction of Richie Keen (Really?) is that fight. It’s the first time the movie comes to life.

But by that point, Charlie Day’s ensured all we have to offer that finale are deaf ears.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material

Cast: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, Tracy Morgan, Christina Hendicks

Credits:Directed by Richie Keen, script by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:31

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