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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Roosevelt High is a great school.

No, no, wait. Sorry, misspoke. What I meant to say is that Roosevelt High is a great argument for home school.

To say that Roosevelt's a little out of control is like saying the Russian Revolution was a little messy. The place makes your average European soccer riot look like a Victorian tea. Granted, we don't see Roosevelt at its best. It's senior prank day, after all, not finals week. But no matter: It's pretty obvious that education falls well down on most students' to-do lists. And, hey, if the students don't care, why should the staff?

Take Andy Campbell, a mild-mannered English teacher. Sure, maybe once, Campbell imagined making a great, Mr. Holland's Opus sort of difference in his students' lives—turning them on to the power and joy of a good Brontë novel or something. But these days, Campbell's just happy for the check. He's got a wife, a daughter and another kid on the way. He doesn't care as much about feeding the kids' minds as much as putting food on his own table.

But one teacher—Mr. Strickland—still cares about education. Why, he'll teach these kids something about American history even if he has to pry open their tiny little skulls and physically stuff it in their tiny little brains.

That might not be an exaggeration, by the way.

When Strickland falls victim to a senior prank, the teacher chops the prankster's desk to kindling with a fire ax. That'll keep his students' attention, he figures. Or it would, if they hadn't all fled the classroom in terror. Campbell sees the whole thing, and Strickland tells Campbell he better not narc on him. "Teachers stick together," he growls. But when the two are dragged into Principal Tyler's office, the boss tells them that at least one of them is going to be fired today. And who that is just might be determined by who says what.

Campbell turns on Strickland in less time than it takes to send an inflammatory tweet.

"Snitches gets stitches," Strickland tells Campbell after the meeting. He challenges the English teacher to a good old-fashioned fist fight: 3 p.m. Parking lot. "It's on," Strickland says.

Sure, Campbell might've saved his job. But he might lose something, too. Like his teeth.

Positive Elements

You might think that there's not much good to say about Fist Fight. And you might be right.

But in his own strange, ax-brandishing way, Strickland does take his teaching seriously, and that's a good thing. When Campbell suggests that Strickland forget about showing an educational vid on an apparently faulty television set and give the kids a free period instead ('cause they'd all like him for it), Strickland pushes back. "A free period?" he asks. "What good would that do? … I don't need to be liked. I need to educate."

Indeed, Strickland isn't just interested in fighting Campbell because he's a weaselly snitch (though there's that, too). He sees their upcoming rumble as a potential catalyst to improve the school system. Just what he expects this fight to accomplish is, however, a little … murky. Like shaving the family cat to prove that smoking is bad for you.

Campbell learns his own valuable lesson, too: That you should live your life boldly, without fear. That you should do what's right, even when it's not easy. That's a great message, as far as it goes. Alas, the movie goes several time zones farther—well past "living boldly" and straight into "full-blown criminal psychosis."

Spiritual Content

The impending fight between Strickland and Campbell becomes a regional happening, and we see a church sign that reads, "Pray for Andy Campbell #teacherfight."

Sexual Content

As part of a senior prank, there's a television set in the high school hallway playing a porn movie. Two topless women (we see their breasts) kiss passionately on the screen.

The school's counselor, Holly, flirts with an apparently disinterested student. She tells Campbell that the news always ignores the best aspects of those student-teacher affair stories—the seduction. And she marvels at the fact that she can watch these children grow up, teach them how to navigate life and then, the second they turn 18, legally have sex with them. (She's wrong, of course, as Campbell points out repeatedly.) Holly says, "I would never have sex with a student … without protection." Once school's out, the teen whom Holly has been flirting with all year shows a reciprocal interest. And since he is, officially, no longer a student, he opens the door to a sexual relationship (which, if consummated at all, takes place offscreen.)

A teacher catches a student masturbating in a closet, and those two are in turn discovered by another teacher who thinks something inappropriate is happening between them. Two other students mow and chalk obscene pictures of breasts and genitalia on an athletic field. Other seniors ink obscene messages and pictures on Campbell's white board.

Violent Content

The titular fight itself is a doozy. The teachers punch, kick, bite and throw each other around. They hurtle onto cars. They're thwacked with fire extinguishers, books and stop signs. The melee leaves both seriously hurt and, at times, unconscious. Campbell looks especially brutalized, with gobs of dried blood caked underneath his nose and a host of cuts and bruises visible elsewhere.

As mentioned, Strickland takes an ax to a student's desk. He brandishes it other times as well. Students and faculty both imagine legendary scenarios from Strickland's past: How maybe he was a gang member who kept folks in line (we see him holding a wrench that he's about to use on a man begging for mercy); a special-ops soldier (we see him as he leads a battalion of fellow soldiers into a room and bloodlessly shoots presumed terrorists); or a cop who beats crooks released from jail on technicalities (we see him in an alley pummeling an unseen victim with a trashcan lid).

One just-fired teacher suffers a number of slapstick indignities, most of which involve him falling down. Campbell gets dragged through the hallways by a horse, setting off other senior-prank-related booby traps that spray him with paint. Holly hits Campbell in the head, knocking him over. A student coldcocks his twin brother in the face, knocking him out.

Strickland gets into a fight with a very tall, tough-looking criminal in a holding cell, punching him a couple of times and eventually rendering him unconscious with a sleeper hold. A students' scooter gets crushed by a car. A teacher tells Strickland that Campbell deserves to have his face sliced open, and to Campbell she later mimes running a knife down and around her own face—suggesting she hopes that's exactly what Campbell will get.

Crude or Profane Language

"You cussed!" a high school security officer hollers at Campbell. "I have to write you up!" Oh, if that security guard was writing up every single moment of profanity heard at Roosevelt High this day, he'd not leave his desk until sometime next school year.

We hear about 140 f-words and 65 s-words, though that count is most likely low (and I'll say more about that in the Conclusion). In addition, most of the other profanities known to the English language are uttered, including "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---," "p-ss" and "p---y." God's name is misused upwards of 25 times, at least 15 of those with the word "d--n." Jesus' name is abused thrice. Some of those vulgar words are printed on T-shirts and plastered across walls.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Holly, the guidance counselor, admits to regularly using methamphetamine. Campbell cautions her that meth is very, very bad for you: "A gateway drug?" Holly asks. "The finish line," Campbell corrects.

But when Campbell decides to frame Strickland as a drug user—to send his nemesis to prison, freeing him from the fight—he goes to Holly for some meth he can plant. When she tells him she doesn't have any drugs, he wonders where he can get his hands on some. Holly reminds him that they work at a public school, saying that there's literally no easier place to find drugs.

Campbell tries to buy drugs from a student, who claims to only sell MDMA, the party drug known as Molly. Campbell buys it (except he doesn't pay), stuffs it in Strickland's bag and notifies the police. But the police dogs on scene aren't trained to detect Molly.

When Campbell expresses his frustration, Holly hands him a marijuana joint to take the edge off. Campbell stares at the joint and tells Holly that he thought she didn't have drugs with her, but Holly corrects him: "This isn't a drug," she says with exasperation. "This is weed."

Regardless, Campbell takes the joint to Strickland's classroom, lights it, smokes part of it, then calls over the police and their drug-sniffing dog, suggesting that Strickland was smoking the pot (Oh, and the MDMA is still planted in Strickland's briefcase, too). Police note that Campbell's eyes are bloodshot, though, and they eventually take both teachers into jail. (It's later discovered that the supposed Molly is actually aspirin.)

We learn that a horse running through the hallways is pepped up on homemade meth. Strickland smokes a cigarette in an imagined past.

Other Negative Elements

Students treat teachers very disrespectfully and are subjected to a bevy of mean-spirited senior pranks. Campbell does some incredibly underhanded things to avoid his fight with Strickland. When he asks a student to help him, the student blackmails him for a iBook Pro. When Campbell's wife sees him with the computer, Campbell lies about its purpose and gives it to her … necessitating the need to buy another laptop for his blackmailer.

We see a lot of indifference toward, and wasteful mismanagement of, a public high school. In an outtake, we see horse excrement in a school hallway.

Conclusion

As mentioned, Campbell has a daughter. And this daughter is, naturally, played by a real 10-year-old girl. As I sat through the this foul, profane, ridiculous movie, I found myself abstractly thinking about kids who appear in R-rated movies like this one. How are they shielded from content that, according to the MPAA, they shouldn't be even seeing without parents' guidance for another seven years?

From what I've read, children who appear in creepy horror movies are often protected from the real terror of the film: Danny Lloyd, the kid from The Shining, reportedly didn't even know he was in a horror movie until seven years later, when he saw an edited version of the flick. And I wondered whether the same thing might've happened here, with this little girl. Was she protected from the content during filming? Will she even be allowed to watch the finished product?

Then the girl took the stage for a school talent show competition and spit out lyrics to one of the most profane rap songs I've ever heard—so foul, in fact, that I literally wouldn't keep an accurate tally of all the profanity. I pride myself on my accurate f-word counting, but this movie—and particularly that scene—was more than a match for me.

By the time the song was finished, I had a whole new batch of questions. Mostly for the child's parents.

It's really too bad that Fist Fight is so foul. I'd much rather spend this space talking about some of the movie's underlying themes of how living in fear can twist you, and how living honestly and boldly—as God, I believe, wants us to live—is really the way to go. I'd like to talk about how this movie overshoots the mark from "living boldly" to "living stupidly," and how we need to draw important distinctions between "obsessive fear" (bad) and "sane prudence." (good).

But, hey, this movie is just too foul, too silly, and too terrible to justify giving it even that much credit.

Fist Fight tries to tell us that what we say and do, and how we live our lives, matters. But it undercuts its own message by not caring much about its own story or content or, frankly, its audience. It's as sloppy and lazy and foul as most of its teachers. Perhaps it could use a Mr. Strickland of its own to help it straighten out.

Then again, maybe not.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Genre

Comedy

Author

Cast

Charlie Day as Andy Campbell; Ice Cube as Ron Strickland; Tracy Morgan as Coach Freddie Coward; Jillian Bell as Holly; Dean Norris as Principal Tyler; JoAnna Garciea as Maggie; Kumail Nanjiani as Officer Mehar; Alexa Nisenson as Ally

Director

Richie Keen ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 17, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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