High-school farce not exactly high comedy


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In the rowdy, crowded field of American comedy, Charlie Day has elbowed out a place for himself as a unique voice.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/02/2017 (2004 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the rowdy, crowded field of American comedy, Charlie Day has elbowed out a place for himself as a unique voice.

And a high, squeaky voice it is.

Day, of the series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the two Horrible Bosses movies, established a unique persona of a nervous flibbertigibbet of highly questionable judgment.

Bob Mahoney/Warner Bros. Ice Cube, left, and Charlie Day.

In the raunchy comedy Fist Fight, Day mostly is put in the untenable position of straight man, in the role of a high-school English teacher forced to participate in an after-school brawl when he snitches on a fellow teacher, Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) to preserve his own job amid faculty cutbacks.

So that’s the joke. Plot-wise, the movie feels like Phil Joanou’s 1987 cult comedy Three O’Clock High, except this time it’s a teacher and not a student trying to avoid the inevitable beatdown. Where Joanou layered the countdown with a touch of ’80s expressionism, the director of this film, Richie Keen, goes with the more contemporary fallback: a melange of gross-out mixed with inappropriate behaviour, as delivered by comic actors given licence to freely improvise.

Beneath all that is a fairly typical character arc in American film: The wimp must learn to finally stand up for himself, even if he is facing a bigger, badder, violent, unhinged opponent (who, in fact, is not unreasonably fired for swinging a fire axe at a student).

Bob Mahoney/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ice Cube, right, and Charlie Day in a scene from "Fist Fight."

If the plot moves forward with a certain inevitability, the movie does paint a vivid picture of high school as hellscape.

On the last day of school before summer, the students can run amok, playing destructive pranks — which include setting a methed-up horse free in the school halls and hiring a mariachi band to accompany the blustering principal (Dean Norris) wherever he goes.

Clearly, the kids have no respect for authority. But given that the faculty includes a senior-stalking, drug-abusing guidance counsellor (Jillian Bell) and a clueless football coach (Tracy Morgan) unable to ascertain that the student volunteers landscaping the football field are actually drawing an obscene mural viewable from space, who can blame them?

Ice Cube does his stock character — the angry black man — but since the issue of race doesn’t really come into play, the character comes across as just a psychotic hothead there to drive the plot.

That’s not to say we don’t get uncomfortable when Day’s character hits on a scheme of framing Cube’s character with drug possession. The movie just blunders ahead with the spectacle of a white guy trying to frame a black guy by planting drugs on him, as if that kind of thing didn’t have a horrifying historic precedent.

Much of this could be forgiven if the movie delivered a decent share of laughs. But it doesn’t, not really. Fist Fight falls prey to the zeitgeist.

Authority figures acting like destructive, temperamental children? These days, it just feels too close to home.

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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