By John Black
Great comedy teams are often made up of opposites: Laurel was skinny and Hardy was fat; Abbot was suave and intelligent, Costello was a bumbling idiot.
While it’s too soon to call them ‘great’ after just one film, the new comedy Fist Fight, Ice Cube and Charlie Day play against each other in funny and surprising ways. Sure, one is Black and one is white, one is angry and one is timid, one is a famous rap star while the other has the voice of an asthmatic sucking helium. They could stand next to each other, say absolutely nothing and still get a laugh.
Luckily, there is more to the comic duo than simply a celebration of opposites. The both share a sense of what makes them funny to fans in the first place, a strong sense of comic timing and the willingness to look embarrassingly bad to make a scene work.
Directed by Richie Keen, making the leap from directing TV shows to the big screen, the film tells the story of two teachers trying to survive the last day of school at a rundown educational institution. Enraged that students are pranking him, History teacher Mr. Strickland (Cube) attacks a student’s desk with a fire ax. Fellow teacher, Mr. Campbell, witnesses the event but, afraid of Mr. Strickland, refuses to tell the principal what happened. Once the principal threatens Mr. Campbell with being fired if he doesn’t tell the truth, the English teacher rats out the history teacher.
The next thing he knows, Mr. Campbell is challenged to meet Mr. Strickland in the parking lot after school because, as Mr. Strickland says, “Snitches get stiches”.
Although the film gets a little to bogged down in toilet humor and silly sex jokes, there’s an energy to it all that makes even the most shamelessly stupid gags kind of fun to watch. There are some good supporting acts to keep thigs flowing too, such as Tracy Morgan as the high school coach and Jillian Bell as the insanely inappropriate guidance counsellor. Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) almost steals the show as the beleaguered principal of the school.
The real stars of the show, though, are Cube and Day who light up the screen whenever they appear together. Their acts may seem a bit familiar to anyone who has seen Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Cube in almost anything he’s done before that requires him to snarl into the camera, but it’s clear from the start that the pair are playing ‘themselves’ for fun in the film. Cube is fierce and funny, as expected, but he gives Mr. Strickland an undertone of caring for the kids that makes him more than a two-dimensional Ice Cube cut-out. Likewise, Day personifies the definition of milquetoast in the movie, but reveals a dark side t Mr. Campbell that gives the film the edge it needs.
Plus the actual fight scene is awesome.