Movie reviews: Vulgar teen comedy 'Fist Fight' good for laugh or two
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Charlie Day, left, and Tracy Morgan in a scene from 'Fist Fight.'
Published Friday, February 17, 2017 6:30AM EST
FIST FIGHT: 3 STARS
“Fist Fight” is a vulgar teen comedy, like “Porky’s” only with 1,000 per cent more jokes about penises, masturbation and sex. Then there’s the bad language that completely outpaces f-word aficionados Tarantino and Scorsese combined. Grandma won’t like this loose remake of the 1987 teen comedy “Three O'Clock High,” but anyone who’s ever dreamed of a raunchy version of “Revenge of the Nerds” should find a laugh or two here.
It’s the end of the semester at the rough-‘n-tumble Roosevelt High School, the kind of school where teachers complain the students are unteachable and the guidance counsellor smokes crack to cope with the chaos. To compound matters, it’s Prank Day. That means strategically placed paint bombs, a horse, high on meth, roaming the halls and other mean-spirited and dangerous hijinks.
Trying to get through the day are Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), a well-meaning English teacher and Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), the world’s toughest history teacher. Between the student shenanigans and budget cuts that threaten everyone’s jobs, tensions run high. When Campbell accidentally gets Strickland fired a bad day goes from crappy to craptastic. “I'm going to fight you,” says the amped-up Strickland looking for some street justice. “After school meet me in the parking lot and we'll handle this.”
The mild-mannered Campbell has never been in a fight but knows he can’t back down. As the #teacherfight spreads across social media, a crowd gathers in the parking lot to witness the carnage. Before the fight begins, however, Campbell has a few things to take care of, including dancing with his daughter at a talent show.
“Fist Fight” is an anything-goes comedy that softens nears the end to deliver a few knockout punches on bullying, school budget cuts and doing the right thing. The messaging gets lost amid the mile-a-minute gags but it’s there if you squint your eyes and look very closely.
Not that the movie is much interested in anything but the laughs. It tries hard—almost too hard—to get a giggle out of the viewer, carpet bombing the audience with jokes, only about half of which land. Ten-year-old Alexa Nisenson nearly steals the show with a no-holds barred rendition of a Big Sean song. It’s wrong, completely wrong, but her message to a school bully is undeniable and joyful even if it turns the air at the junior high talent show blue. Also, it’s great to see Tracy Morgan back in action after his car accident.
Most of the heavy listing lands on the backs of Day and Cube. It’s funny to hear Ice Cube seamlessly work in the title of his most famous song into a gag and Day brings a certain kind of Don Knotts charm to the role of the mild-mannered man who finds his inner gumption. They both deliver laughs, but many are of the oh-no-he-didn’t variety rather than deep belly laughs.
“Fist Fight” doesn’t lack punch, but many of the jokes feel like open handed slaps than direct hits.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS: 1 STAR
You’ve never been on an office retreat like this one. “A Cure for Wellness” sounds like it could be a self-help guide on leading a happier, healthier life but is in fact a mystery thriller about a cure that may be worse than the illness.
Dane DeHaan stars as financial whiz Mr. Lockhart, an ambitious executive in an American company. His boss, the company’s CEO Roland Pembroke, has disappeared at a European wellness spa in the Swiss Alps. The bigwig came to the facility to take advantage of the healing waters that run underneath the spa’s castle but later sent a note back to Wall Street. “One cannot willingly return to the darkness when he has the gift of the light. I will not return do not contact me again.”
With the CEO unwilling to return on his own Lockhart’s partners send him to retrieve the AWOL boss so they can unload the company at a huge profit. “The merger cannot go through without Pembroke signing off on certain legal matters.”
One 4,000-mile journey later, Lockhart arrives at the castle, missing visiting hours by just five minutes. Without a working phone or WiFi he travels to the nearest village, only to be badly injured and left, stranded at the castle as a patient. As he recuperates it becomes clear the sanatorium is like the Hotel California, you can check in anytime you like but you can never leave!
As the line between real and unreal blur, his search for information on Pembroke takes on the air of a gothic horror story, embroidered with equal patches of history and mystery. It seems there might be a connection to the genetic experiments conducted by a Baron who lived in the castle 200 years previously.
“A Cure for Wellness” has an ongoing sense of Gothic unease that builds with every sideways glance and dark and shadowy corner. Director Gore Verbinski aims to find a similar off-kilter feel to “The Shining” where everyday objects and places take on sinister feel. He spends endless time establishing the atmosphere, time that might have been better spent crafting an interesting story. Many times throughout I didn't think “How will this end?” but “Will it ever end?”
It drones on for two-and-a-half hours, a running time that equals an audience endurance test, throwing characters and ideas at the screen, hoping for one to take hold. It all leads up to a pretty good ‘n twisted climax, one that Vincent Price would approve of, but it takes for too long to get there. Verbinski is known for his unrestrained running times, but please someone explain to him that less really is more.
DeHaan does deserve credit for submitting to some very uncomfortable situations but one has to wonder how he kept a straight face while head doctor and creepy guy Volmer (Jason Isaacs) intones gobbly goop about the cure for the human condition being disease because only then is the hope for a cure. Perhaps if this were a bit campier, played with a sense of how ridiculous it is, it may have been tolerable, but as it stands “A Cure for Wellness” is a Seatbelt Movie, a film so misguided I needed a seatbelt to prevent me from bolting from the theatre.
THE GREAT WALL: 2 STARS
“The Great Wall” is not the story of Donald Trump’s relations with Mexico. It’s a $150-million historical epic from Chinese director Zhang Yimou that garnered a lot of criticism for the controversial casting of Matt Damon in a major role.
Detractors called the choice an example of a “white saviour” from the West appropriating Chinese culture and stepping in to save the day. Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat” voiced her disapproval, accusing the film of “perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” adding, “our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.”
Zhang fought back. “Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor.”
“As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics,” he said in a statement, “I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision.”
More on that later, but having seen the film, a more blatant criticism would be the generic, formulaic filmmaking.
On the run, mercenary soldiers William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are captured at a Great Wall outpost by a band of Chinese soldiers called the Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau). The interlopers are due to be disposed of until they offer up a claw Garin separated from a mysterious beast days before.
Turns out, the creature is a Tao Tie, a nasty breed of beast that attacks the Imperial Court every sixty years. The walleyed creatures look like a smooth green werewolf-Komodo Dragon hybrid and are very difficult to kill. When the Tao Tie attack days earlier than expected Tovar and Garin’s bravery earn them privileged spots in the battalion. “We’re honoured to be honoured,” says Garin. But the pair are secretly only interested in the local “black powder.” “It turns the air into fire!” they gasp. If they can smuggle the gunpowder out of the battalion it will make them rich men in the West.
It’s a great plan until Garin opts to leave his mercenary ways behind join forces with General Lin (Jing Tian), the only female English-speaking commander at the outpost. Her bravery turns his head, reminding him of why he became a soldier in the first place. “Let me fight with you,” he says. “If this is where you choose to die, good luck to you,” scoffs Tovar. If the Tao Tie breach the wall, we’re told several times, nothing can stop them.
“The Great Wall” uses every epic monster film trick in the book. Cameras sweep and swirl, flames lick the screen, there's slow-mo galore and loads of Zhang’s unique wuxia style action but despite the grandeur and the lushness of the cinematography and costume details it is all rather dull. It’s “Lord of the Rings” without the engaging fantasy and “Game of Thrones” sans the lusty carnality that keeps people watching between dragon conquest scenes.
There is some humour between the battle scenes. Garin and Tovar are awfully quippy for a pair of Song dynasty soldiers. “I'm the one saving you,” Tovar jokes on the battlefield, “so I can kill you myself.” It’s “Hope and Crosby on the Road to the Imperial Court!”
As for Garin as the Saviour from the West, I have to agree with Wu. There are several heroes in this movie but Garin eats up the most screen time and in the end is instrumental in (SPOILER ALERT) keeping the nasty beasties from having their way with the Emperor. Damon is an agreeable actor, although here he dons a flat and ever-changing accent that simply amplifies how completely out of place he seems in ancient China.
“The Great Wall” feels more like an exercise in marketing than it does a movie. The size and spectacle of it appear geared to appeal to an audience used to avenging superheroes, while the casting of a white American star at the heart of another culture’s tale looks to be a blatant attempt at creating a tentpole film for a world audience. What they forgot about was including compelling characters and story.
MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE: 3 STARS
There’s a new twenty-first century genre of documentary, the Scientology Expose. From the explosive revelations of “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” and “Scientology: Inside the Cult” to more personal films like “Scientology and Me,” the church that L. Ron Hubbard built has been placed under the glare of the documentary camera like never before. With so many hours of investigation already committed to film, the obvious question is Does “My Scientology Movie” reveal anything we don’t already know?
The answer is no it doesn’t but it at last rehashes the old information in an entertaining way.
Directed by John Dower, and written by and starring Louis Theroux—imagine a glibber and taller John Oliver—uses a variety of devices to tell the tale of Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking Scientology official, and the church itself. A mix-and-match of reality TV style footage and ambush journalism with talking head footage and recreations with actors hired to play church head honchos, it paints a picture of religious fundamentalism that not only bends the rules of acceptable behaviour but shatters them all in the name of loyalty not to the church but to its head David Miscavige.
It’s not a pretty picture but it’s also not a new picture. All of these docs feature a disenfranchised member of the church and denials from Scientology brass but Dower and Theroux up the ante by including a Tom Cruise impersonator. Irritable and unpredictable, Rathbun, a man who calls Scientology the most, “pernicious, dangerous cult the western world has known in the past 50 years,” spices things up but in the end, with no major revelations “My Scientology Movie” is little more than a greatest hits of facts and innuendo.