“Editor wants to see you,” Mark’s face is the picture of smug satisfaction. He couldn’t be taking more pleasure in newfound career as bad news messenger. He maintains eye contact for the entire leisurely stroll back to his desk. I sit for a second wondering what it could be about? I haven’t done anything, have I? Everything was in on time, wasn’t it?
“Now, Sam. He wants to see you now.” Mark’s gleeful smirk peers around the corner of a sickly office fern. “Chop chop”
I mutter some vague insult to myself and head over to the double doors that separate us from The Editor. The fluorescent lights flicker as I approach. A coincidence, I’m sure.
The hinges squeal as the door slides against the deep red carpet. I step into The Editor’s cavernous office, my footsteps announcing my presence before I can speak. The chandeliers light one by one from the back of the room, towards me. Each candle bursting to life with no apparent means of ignition. With the room illuminated by flickering candlelight I take in the marble floor, the carved, gilded wainscoting, Greek statues, faces chiselled off, lush rainforest flora, and sad, dead-eyed wildlife peering mournfully from golden cages. No element truly at home in its gaudy tomb.
“Why have you disturbed me, mortal?” The booming voice rippling from a pile of velvet, I had assumed to be a discarded cloak until it rose, taking on the rough shape of a man.
“I… er… Mark said that-”, I stammer over my words.
-WHOOSH- as if carried by eldritch wings, the velvet apparition hurtles towards me at terrifying speed. The whining of mechanical winches reveals the actual method of travel but makes it no less terrifying. He stops only inches in front of me, with a metallic clang, his face level with mine, hovering in a diamond studded, leather harness.
“I didn’t ask you what Mark said, boy, I asked you: ‘why you disturbed me?’” He hissed at me.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Oh, it’s you. The new boy. You will review Fist Fight. It is an American Comedy with Ice Cube and That Guy From That Show That Everyone Is Always Going On About. Just the kind of thing that you,” he slowly looked me up and down, “would like.”
I fell to my knees clinging to the folds of his cloak.
“Please, don’t make me watch another American comedy.” I begged, the winches and pulleys lowering the hulking Editor down to me. He leant close to hear, his hot breath on my cheek.
“Careful child, Pixels is out on DVD any minute now.”
As I sat in the almost completely empty cinema, I was worried that the impression I had got of this film, from its trailer, was correct. Was I about to sit through another tedious American comedy, stuffed with antiquated, offensive humour? A film that only serves as a paycheque for its cast as they barely phone in their performances? Well, by no means is Fist Fight a successful comedy, but you know what, it wasn’t that bad.
Now, that’s not to say that I would actually watch this film again, recommend it, or even praise it on any level other than basic competence, but considering some of the films I sat through last year, the bar is now so low that Fist Fight did pretty well.
I took a “laugh tally” during the film and recorded six chuckles and one actual laugh. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you any of the things that actually caused them. The humour was, somewhat, forgettable.
Fist Fight stars Ice Cube as Strickland, a no nonsense History teacher at the end of his tether and Charlie Day as Andy Campbell, an English teacher, probably nearing the middle of his tether. Maybe three quarters tether. They both teach at an underfunded public high school, unremarkable so far, and fairly unremarkable from here on, actually. The entire film takes place, rather satisfyingly, on the last day of the school year, whilst the seniors are in full prank mode. Hilarious japes ensue as the students attempt to prank the teachers one last time before going on to be mindless worker drones in a capitalist dystopia.
The unlikely pair are pitted against each other when Strickland’s, frankly reckless and insane behaviour catches up with him. He then challenges Campbell to a fight after school. The remainder of the plot revolves around Campbell attempting: Not to have the fight, perform at his daughter’s talent show and not get fired from his job.
As I said, it is not a successful comedy, but it is not a complete failure as a drama. I was sort of interested in what was going to happen; I wasn’t laughing but I wasn’t bored. And isn’t that the most important thing? I didn’t want to walk out. Faint praise has never been so half-hearted.
But let me make a rambling, tangential point: last year, I saw Jurassic World, Spectre and Star Trek: Beyond and each one filled me such a cosmic boredom that I can barely express it with anything other than guttural moans. The only reason I stayed and watched the whole of any of them is that I was with someone and it would’ve lead to such an awkward situation that I stayed. I wonder if I made the right choice, having watched a T-Rex and Velociraptor effectively high-five after defeating a T-1000-Rex or whatever the hell it was. My point is that Fist Fight is not a great film, but it could’ve been a lot worse. The main strength of it was its structure. Jokes and plot points are established early and then reintroduced with a pay-off. They even use that classic of Russian Theatre, Chekhov’s baby oil. The cast give a convincing performance of people who want to be in a film (a rare treat), no one is particularly wooden or tedious to watch. Christina Hendricks gets to do and say things that don’t revolve entirely around her breasts. Dean Norris plays Dean Norris and does a fine job. Jillian Bell’s performance as a guidance counselor who wants to fuck her students is troubling, to say the least but her delivery is spot on even if the script was lacking. Kumail Nanjiani is excellent as usual (I think the majority of chuckles were at his lines), but I did feel that this film was slightly beneath him. I realise that may be me just being a comedy snob. Tracy Morgan was adequate but never really got a huge amount of space to work. Ice Cube’s fairly straight performance, played to his strengths and made for some pretty convincing scenes.
Now, I like improvisation. I really do. Podcasts, live shows… probably other things, but I really like watching good improvisers go. It adds levity and freedom to a performance and when you know the material is being made up on the spot, you can forgive some occasional clunky delivery. You’re in on the joke with the performer, you can see them struggling over a concept or surprised by another performer’s revelation. However, when you don’t know if what you’re watching is improvised, if in fact the improvisation has been obfuscated by editing, you aren’t in on the joke and the awkward presentation is just that, awkward. My point is, improvisation is a valuable tool for any performer, but for a feature film, some development of those ideas might, just might, be a good idea. Or maybe just because something is funny on set, doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to translate to the big screen. You had to be there syndrome is a real documented thing that I didn’t just make up. Having said that Mike Leigh workshops his films and those make me want to drown myself in a bucket of forced actor tears. I can make actors cry, Mike, it doesn’t automatically make me an auteur director.
There did seem to be some confusion about what the film was trying to say. The plot line with Campbell’s daughter’s talent show feels confused about whether you’re supposed to be yourself or do anything to be the popular kid at school. Are Strickland’s violent outbursts charmingly eccentric or irresponsible? Disappointingly the parts that were trying to get the film’s message across felt a little loose which make it harder to appreciate the good parts. However, the director, Richie Keen, does a fine job making the film feel tight overall. Although, like most things about this film there’s nothing really remarkable.
By this point, you’re probably wondering if I actually liked this film or not. That’s a bit difficult to answer. Fist Fight, isn’t a particularly good film. I didn’t really get much out of it but I don’t regret having seen it. It was a better drama than a comedy, which was not what it was trying to be but that’s what it is. The thing you can take away from it and possibly its most charming attribute is its sincerity: it never feels cynical. I’ll take a failed, genuine comedy over a tight and well-produced cynical drama.
Review by Sam Rae
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