One of the very last images we’re treated to at the end of 2017’s first alleged comedy is a literal pile of horse shit. Don’t ask why, and don’t ask how; it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s there, and that the camera tilts down to see it: a visual metaphor that manages to punctuate the film in a way that can’t possibly have been intentional, saying everything you need to know about the movie while still managing to say absolutely nothing at all. Had director Richie Keen possessed even a modicum of self-effacing irony he would have opened with this shot and thrown the title on screen right then and there.
And that’s “Fist Fight” in a nutshell. It isn’t even funny by accident, let alone on purpose. It’s a film where everyone shouts their dialogue BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT FUNNY, and where the word “f—k” is treated as both a foolproof set-up and punchline. As such, it’s just people shouting “f—k” without understanding that, like when you’re actually doing what the word means, it’s all in how you use it.
This turgid, overlong cacophony of migraine-inducing noise is the feature-length equivalent of that last sketch of the night on any of the worst seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” snuck in during the final minutes before its shot and put out of our misery by the closing credits. The idea of two teachers (Charlie Day and Ice Cube) having an afterschool row in the parking lot has about five minutes’ worth of mineable material; in this case, it’s bloated, corpse-like, to eighteen times that length, decomposing gaseously before your very eyes. It’s like watching an autopsy video on the concept of humor.
There are literally no jokes. It’s the aforementioned shouting (peppered at times with screeching), and a preoccupation with erect penises, masturbation, and ejaculation, all of which serve as metaphors for the People of Walmart filmmaking you’re watching. It’s unintentionally meta.
Charlie Day continues to refine his performance as “Charlie Day,” while Ice Cube, who used to wear his Compton background as a seal of authenticity, continues his transformation into a safe and fuzzy Saturday morning cartoon caricature. Once upon a time, he was rapping about gang violence, or informing white America that to inner city youth, “Uncle Sam was Hitler without an oven.” Now, he’s play-fighting an actor from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” inside a toilet stall while a nerdy kid jerks off to internet porn. Keepin’ it real!
Straight-up hardcore frontin’ duties go to Day’s onscreen (and I’m pretty sure unnamed) daughter (Alexa Nisenson), who performs a song I’m happy to say I’d never heard and can’t be bothered to investigate for this review (because I’m keepin’ it real). This sequence, built around a climactic middle school talent show, is groundbreaking in its effort to raise the comedic bar. Instead of uptight old people dancing to rap music, “Fist Fight” has a pre-teen singing a rap song! With gang signs! And eff-bombs! That’s why it’s funny! KEEPIN’ IT F—KIN’ REAL!
But maybe I’m off base. The audience at my preview screening spent the entire film in a near-convulsive state of hysteria so visceral that the floor was literally shaking from the stamping of feet. All the while my bitter migraine was exacerbated by the braying, hyena-like laughter fired directly into my ears. “Fist Fight” provoked a football-like response, as the crowd spent ninety-one minutes engaging the movie, directly – asking questions, repeating back every other line of dialogue, and kindly going so far as to narrate the action for the benefit of everyone else in their row (who, strangely, were all doing the same thing at the exact same time). This might have led to some missed spots on the crowd’s part, as I overheard more than one group trying to piece together the plot on the way out, or attempting to explain to their slightly slower companions the deep intricacies of the many penis jokes. In that respect, “Fist Fight” is an amazing success, as it can miss something as obvious as a (literally) shitty ending and its intended audience doesn’t even notice.
Directed by Richie Keen
Written by Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, and Max Greenfield
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity, and drug material