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16 Feb. 2017

Teachers face off in FIST FIGHT


While many students have brawled and scrapped on the schoolyard, the notion of teachers in classic fisticuffs fashion is now a motion picture. FIST FIGHT, starring Ice Cube (Straight Outta Compton, Are We There Yet?, Ride Along, Friday), Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, Horrible Bosses), Tracy Morgan (Top Five, Cop Out), Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street, Bridesmaids) and Dennis Haysbert (Ted 2, Love & Basketball) with Kim Whitley (Next Friday, The Perfect Man) is a no holds barred beat down.

And, for every comedic punch line, there is a corresponding fist punch.

High school teacher Ron Strickland (Cube) takes his job seriously, way too seriously. Colleague Andy Campbell (Day) doesn’t take his job seriously enough, until he’s about to lose it. With a pregnant wife and mounting family obligations, Andy has few options. Facing the inevitable, with self confidence in short supply, Andy puts up his best defense at a school that is beyond control.

Directed by Richie Keen (Crocodile Tears) and produced by Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Date Night, Night at the Museum movies), FIST FIGHT is a New Line Pictures release.

SNITCHES GET STITCHES

Keen says the pairing of Day and Cube as two teachers on an extra-curricular collision course is perfect. “Comedically, I don’t think you could ask for a better visual than Ice Cube versus Charlie Day; it’s kind of a laugh in itself. And audiences are going to see these actors doing things they’ve never done before. It was just a joy working with them both.”

Even before Strickland challenges Andy to the titular fist fight, they have conflicting approaches to education. Keen explains, “Andy Campbell is someone who believes in talking about your feelings and asking for everybody’s input. He wants to be a mentor to his students, most of whom aren’t interested. Whereas Ron Strickland believes actions have consequences, so he’d say to Andy, ‘While you’re busy talking about these kids’ feelings, they don’t know the alphabet.’ He cares about getting results. He’s kind of an old-school teacher, while Andy Campbell is more of a new-age teacher.”

Day observes, “Andy is a very nice man, perhaps too nice. He’s adverse to any confrontation and is suddenly faced with the most intimidating confrontation of his entire life. Now he has no choice but to become a little bit tougher and less soft. I sympathize with him because no matter how resourceful he is and no matter how hard he tries to worm out of the fight, he can’t get out of it. I think what appealed to me is his earnestness. He’s starts out as something of a straight man in a sea of crazy people,” he laughs. “It was fun to get to play someone slightly more grounded who becomes completely untethered over the course of the movie.”

During a Los Angeles press conference to discuss FIST FIGHT, Ice Cube had this to say about–

The idea for FIST FIGHT
We wanted the underlying message to center on two teachers fighting. It’s unusual for two teachers to scrap. We also wanted an underlying message talking about the school system and how two teachers deal with it. One teacher is super hard and the other teacher is trying to appease and get along with the students. This story says a lot about the school system and the problems we face today. We wanted to make these messages along with a bigger message to have fun, to laugh and to trip on this crazy scenario. FIST FIGHT is a popcorn movie that’s all about the fun. If you’re trying to find a deep rooted message in it…nahhhhh.

Doing a fight scene in a movie

I’ve been doing fight scenes in movies for a while. If you could fight Tiny Lister in a movie (the FRIDAY films), you learn to quickly move out of the way or he will hit you’re a– accidentally on purpose (laughter). He got me…real close to the nose one time. I then learned the choreography [of film fighting]. The choreography keeps you from getting an accidental black eye that won’t look good on film.

Playing the straight guy in a comedy

Anytime you work with people as funny as Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Kim Whitley, you’re going to break into laughter, even when you’re the straight man. Jillian is a comedic genius. Charlie is seamless from comedy to drama and back-and-forth. He just has this sensibility about him that’s funny. You can count on Tracy saying something inappropriate every time. You break [into laughter] every now and then. There are scenes in this film that bring back memories of certain teachers who would drag you up and yoke you by the collar–I’m playing that guy. The guy who takes the air out of the room….in real life, I’m the coolest dude you want to meet and anybody would agree.”

Being typecast

It seems like every movie I do there’s a reference to NWA (Cube’s iconic rap group). With a comedy you can break all the rules and push all the boundaries to do whatever is funny. I didn’t think about doing music for this film because I want you to see the character, Ron Strickland. I don’t want you to see or think about Ice Cube. Strickland is over the top and a little too much for the school. Kids need discipline but nobody needs Mr. Strickland.

Working with New Line Cinema

With New Line, they just ‘get me’ from day one of any project we’ve worked on. Our first film together was FRIDAY (1995) and they let me do that film without any interference. They said to me, “Just bring us back a finished movie.” We’ve done my pet projects…things they didn’t want to shoot but, still went along with it. They’ve trusted my vision since 1995 and it’s been a great relationship. They’re not afraid to trust young talent. It’s good to see that they are still doing groundbreaking movies. Me and New Line are gonna be here a long time.

Your scowl has a life of its own

As far as the scowl, that’s mine, it’s me. I don’t need to trademark me. I’ll leave that up to the people after I die.

Ice Cube in Raiders baseball hat

About the author

Sandra Varner has had her hands on the pulse of the entertainment industry and lifestyles coverage for decades, staying current, always.

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