The sour comedy Fist Fight won't disabuse the Betsy DeVoses of the world of their illusions about public schools being a hellscape. On the final day of the school year at suburban Roosevelt High, milquetoast English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) runs afoul of aggro, scowling history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) -- "the scariest motherfucker in the school.” Mr. Campbell winds up snitching out Mr. Strickland to the school principal for taking an axe to a misbehaving student's desk, inspiring the latter to challenge the former to a fight in the parking lot. Soon #teacherfight is trending among the student body, and everybody's confidently declaring that Mr. Campbell will be dead by sundown. Fearing for his life, Campbell tries to find a way out of his predicament.
This is not a nice movie, and while its devil-may-care nastiness is occasionally bracing, it's just as often frustrating. Mr. Campbell's escalating duplicity does occasionally temper the film's inadvertently queasy politics, which place us firmly in the perspective of a white teacher with an inner life being terrorized by a black teacher who seems like a sneering, shouting, relentless killing machine. The filmmakers occasionally pick at Campbell's assumptions, as when he tries to frame Strickland with a small bag of molly and seems to think that the cops will automatically know whom to arrest. But the discomfort merely hangs there, unresolved and uncertain. Fist Fight purports to be transgressive in its humor, but it plays things safe when it comes to anything resembling social critique.