The “Fast & Furious” films have a quaint connection to reality.
Only a few of the franchise’s incredible car stunts could actually happen. Most tip their hats to the FX wizards. And we lap it up as long as at least one tire remains on the road.
The same holds true for comedies. We don’t expect jokes to follow the rules of logic and reason. Comic exaggeration is perfectly fine, thank you.
Just keep an eye on reality, please.
“Fist Fight” doesn’t come within spitting distance of the truth. It’s so forced, so phony you mentally check out within minutes. And you’ll be glad you did. The comedy’s meager rewards can all be seen in the trailer.
Charlie Day stars as Mr. Campbell, an English teacher at a rough Atlanta high school. (Never mind that the school doesn’t look so run down … or that the kids are dressed nattily in their clean, middle-class garb). The school is undergoing some rigorous budget cuts, putting every teacher on edge.
Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) lives on that edge. He’s as surly as an NWA rapper, a man who thinks it’s appropriate to wield an ax in his classroom.
You see, not a lick of reality so far. And “Fist Fight” is just warming up.
Mr. Strickland sours on his fellow teacher, who he dubs “light roast” in the film’s only good recurring gag. What made Mr. Strickland angry? The setup is so tortured it should be banned by the Geneva Convention.
Suffice to say he calls out Mr. Campbell, demanding they fight after school. If that part sounds familiar, it’s because “Fist Fight” is a loose remake of the infinitely superior “Three O’Clock High.”
That story connected because most of us have had to face down a bully at some point. Students can’t easily call on the same resources an adult can. There’s no cop or lawyer to rescue you when the bully picks you out for target practice.
That isn’t true for adults like Mr. Campbell. That means the movie must stretch reality past the breaking point just to justify its own existence.
FAST FACT: ‘Fist Fight’ star Charlie Day made his Hollywood debut with a tiny role in the 2000 TV movie “Mary and Rhoda.”
What about the fellow teacher (Jillian Bell) who does meth and fantasizes about seducing her students? Or the colleague (Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”) who sees Mr. Campbell in a compromising position and then spends the rest of the film praying for him to get cut?
Want more? Try a pre-teen belting out a profanity-laced song during a school talent show. This is Moral Bankruptcy Theatre, lacking the nimble touch a black comedy demands.
Both Cube and Day retain their dignity despite all of the above. Cube keeps finding new ways to sell his glowering image. And Day plucks his one and only comic note with admirable intensity.
Only there’s nothing for them do here, beyond dream of a better project for their oddball partnership.
There’s a certain stench that emanates from a bad comedy, typically an R-rated one. It’s when the dialogue is so peppered by profanity you wonder how it could ever be shown on broadcast TV.
Cursing isn’t necessarily bad. We wouldn’t have many Martin Scorsese films without it. When the profanity takes the place of wit and intelligence you’re in for a long time in a movie theater.
That’s exactly how “Fist Fight” feels.
Of course, there’s a life lesson or two embedded in the story. Even those elements get fumbled, making the previous false notes sound sweet by comparison.
HiT or Miss: “Fist Fight” doesn’t pay homage to “Three O’Clock High.” It reminds us to rewatch that ’80s classic and ignore modern dreck like this.
“THE GREAT WALL”
Nicolas Cage stars as a scoundrel who accidentally joins a Chinese army batting against an arm—
Wait. That isn’t Nicolas Cage. It’s Matt Damon.
The A-lister whose movies don’t go straight to home video? What on God’s green earth is he doing in “The Great Wall?”
- Having a blast
- Grabbing a paycheck
- Kissing up to China
- Seeing if he can’t laugh saying some of the lamest lines you’ll hear hear in a movie theater.
“The Great Wall” is the wildly imperfect blend of “Hero” and pure, unfiltered pulp. Director Zhang Yimou delivered the former, but he’s clearly not in his element here. It’s hard to get angry at the misfire, though. It’s a crowd pleasing romp when it’s not bowing down to the greatness that is China.
Damon stars as William Garin, a good-hearted thief searching for black powder. He and his partner Tovar (Pedro Pascal of “Game of Thrones”) literally run into the clutches of a Chinese army with more on its mind that two Europeans.
The Nameless Order is about to go to war with a creepy, monstrous enemy. Good thing these two strangers happened their way.
William fights with the fury of a dozen men, winning over the skeptical Chinese generals. They’ll have to put aside their differences when its time to defend the Great Wall against the hordes of incoming foes.
That’s more or less it. The film attempts to add a few subplots to the mix, such as a very mild flirtation between William and Lin Mae (Jian Tian). We’re also treated to third-rate buddy banter between William and Tovar.
You’ll laugh a few times, but you’ll wince far more.
Willem Dafoe appears randomly as a fellow westerner seeking escape from his Chinese “captors.” The role won’t be in his career highlight reel in 20 years, suffice to say.
FAST FACT: Director Zhang Yimou choreographed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games.
“The Great Wall” looks gorgeous in that oh, so modern CGI way. The director’s penchant for stunning visuals keeps getting interrupted by both the monster movie necessities and the Chinese pandering.
Oh, look at how regal and machine like the Nameless Order is, William marvels. It’s as if the Chinese tourist board shoved the screenwriter’s aside and said, “we got this.”
“This,” ultimately, is a far cry from either “Hero” or Zhang Yimou’s best work, 2004’s “House of Flying Daggers.” Those movies had their stiff movements, but the elegance of his vision always won the day.
This is clunky storytelling from start to finish. It’s still got brightly colored action sequences you’ll occasionally cheer. And, best of all, Damon and co. never take it seriously for a second.
That would have brought this Wall, or any wall, crumbling down.
HiT or Miss: “The Great Wall” is pure pulp, headed by a star who should have known better but is having too much fun to care.
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