By SANDY COHEN
AP Entertainment Writer
If you like Ice Cube surly and sneering, find penis drawings hilarious and believe real men solve problems by throwing punches, “Fist Fight” is for you.
This R-rated comedy from director Richie Keen starts with a ridiculous premise: One high school teacher insists that another fight him after school to settle a professional beef. The opening scene further sets the juvenile tone, taking just seconds to introduce viewers to the script’s three favorite words: the F-word, the P-word and the B- word.
“Higher Learning,” this isn’t.
“Fist Fight” is an indulgence in adolescent male fantasy, where teachers fight and kids rule the school. So it doesn’t really matter that it plays its leading men as caricatures and uses sexist insults throughout. It’s an absurd undertaking from the start.
Charlie Day is Andy Campbell, a nebbishy English teacher at Roosevelt High School. Cube is Strickland, a humorless history teacher who’s carrying a bat and wearing a scowl when we first see him onscreen. It’s the last day of school, and the seniors are going wild with pranks.
One such prank leads Strickland to lose his temper and he ends up smashing a student’s desk with a hatchet during class. Because that happens.
Campbell points the finger at Strickland, who’s fired on the spot.
That’s when Strickland challenges Campbell to “handle our differences like real men” with an after-school fist fight. “Hashtag teacherfight,” Strickland says.
Campbell has even more to worry about. His own job is on the line thanks to school budget cuts, his wife is about to have their second child any minute, and his pre-teen daughter is counting on him to perform with her at her elementary school’s talent show.
Day is convincing as a pathetic putz, even as the story gets more and more farfetched. As established at the outset, “Fist Fight” is set in the world of the ridiculous, so it follows that Campbell would go to crazy lengths to avoid the fight with Strickland, including buying drugs from a student to plant on his colleague.
Cube’s character, though, isn’t developed beyond the snarl. All we know about Strickland is that he’s angry and prone to violence.
Could it be that he’s so passionate about education? Well, when he tries to justify the fist fight as a way to call attention to problems at the school, no- body believes it.
The brightest spots in the film come from the supporting players. Jillian Bell is a riot as a school guidance counselor completely off the rails. She does drugs before school and lusts after the students, lamenting that when teachers are caught having affairs with kids, “the news always leaves out the good part: They never tell how the teacher does the seduction.” Tracy Morgan is in fine form just being himself as a kooky football coach. Kumail Nanjiani shines as the ineffectual campus security guard, and 10-year-old newcomer Alexa Nisenson is a scene- stealer with her school talent show performance.
Sometimes silly comedies actually have something to say. “Fist Fight” is not one of them. It meekly tries for a moral, pretending to have a message about the need for more public school funding and greater respect for its teachers, but it’s really about crass jokes and penis pics.
“Fist Fight,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material.” Running time: 91 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.