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PHIL ON FILM: 'Fist Fight' is as painful as a throat punch

Posted at 8:23 AM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 15:45:27-04

"Fist Fight" asks you to accept a bizarre parallel universe in which inner-city school teachers settle their differences with after-school rumbles that are advertised by Taiwanese animators on YouTube.

The premise is borderline too dumb to buy, especially when it's sold by weak, forced plot mechanics, but it would be OK as long as the comedy lived up to the promise of its two leads. 

It's not OK, though, because the "Fist Fight" confiscates what makes its stars funny like a cell phone and gum-snatching vice principal.

Charlie Day is a comedic phenomenon who works his absurdist magic 10 weeks a year in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." With one of the show's frequent directors, Richie Keen, onboard and Warner Bros. granting them a green light to go for broke with an R rating, things were looking promising for "Fist Fight."

Day's co-star, Ice Cube, wrote and starred in "Friday," one of my favorite comedies. Sure, the sequels were terrible and he went on to star in junk like "Are We There Yet," but the potential will always be there.

The main problem is that Day, whose specialty is out-weirding the weirdest, breaks type to play a meek, nebbish known to be nice to a fault. The arc of the character learning to stand up for himself is an agonizing drag.

Casting Day as a straight man is like binding him in a straitjacket. Ice Cube is in sleep mode, playing an unhinged thug with little relatability. You can feel him wince as he rattles off some of his famous catch phrases from "Friday," as well as his NWA days.

They both play teachers at a rough school who decide to slug it out. The story plays out over the too-long day that leads up to the improbable fight. As the minutes crawl by, you start to feel as though you're stuck in detention. "Twists" that lead up to the inevitable battle are facepalm-worthy, including a talent show dance number with a cussing 12-year-old, a slow sojourn into county jail and a bought-and-paid-for sequence of Apple product placement that's sending some producer's kid to college.

The supporting actors similarly flicker and fade. Tracy Morgan, who is reigniting his career after a 2014 truck wreck, shows shades of his former bombast but struggles with his diction and delivery. He's there just to shout loud, ridiculous one-liners, wearing the one-dimensional bit thin. Christina Hendricks is out of place as a sadistic French teacher who wields a butterfly knife for no good reason.

The one bright spot is Jillian Bell as a guidance counselor who eagerly overshares her sexual perversions, setting Day up for some decent reaction shots. Keen would have been better off shunting off everyone else to the side and focusing on her in the manner of "Bad Teacher."

"Fist Fight" stubbornly sticks to its weak premise, refusing to let Day or Ice Cube play class clowns, instead sticking them in the corner with dunce caps. The dismissal bell can't come soon enough.

RATING: 1.5 stars out of 4.