Everything about this movie is summed up in one of its first lines of dialogue. It’s delivered, by high school English teacher Andy Campbell, to himself, in total submission to the circumstances shaping up around him. He says, “This is gonna be a bad day.” Now, that’s only when he knows it’s the last day of school, that the seniors are going to be playing their traditional last-day-of-school pranks, he needs to find time to get to his daughter’s elementary school recital, and there are rumors of budget cuts and job losses in the air. It’s well before he makes an error in judgment that results in him being ordered to show up in the parking lot after school to fight history teacher Mr. Strickland.
There’s some promise in all of that for a good old romp, for an edgy, cartoonishly violent movie, especially when in one corner is meek little Charlie Day as ever-nonconfrontational Andy, and in the other, the man issuing the challenge, the wrathful, fuming Ice Cube as Strickland, a man who believes he has been wronged. And he has been ... by Andy ... and it’s cost Strickland his job ... but it couldn’t be helped.
So far, so good, for the first 15 or 20 minutes. Then you could insert that early line of dialogue with one word change: “This is gonna be a bad movie.”
It’s not the fault of Day or Cube, who both play their parts to the hilt and make very convincing opposites. Day has been perfecting versions of his high-strung character for more than a decade, on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and in the two “Horrible Bosses” films. Cube has been giving us the sour and scary tough guy for even longer, going back to his part of Doughboy in “Boyz n the Hood.” Both actors also have great comic timing.
The problem here is that the movie depends far too much on the rude and crude humor that keeps getting in the way of the main story. It feels like it’s not only made FOR teen audiences who like the Raunchy Meter set on “high,” but it’s also made BY them. First-time feature director Richie Keen has done plenty of good work on TV, including a dozen or so episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But that’s a format where you can easily get away with quick shots of shock comedy. Unless you’re Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles making “Borat,” when you try to stuff a feature film with it, you’re going to wear out your welcome.
Do we really need Jillian Bell overplaying a guidance counselor with the hots for every teen boy at the school? Must we have absurdly busty Christina Hendricks (wearing outfits that play up her figure) as a sinister teacher who cheers on the idea of the ensuing battle between her coworkers? And why does the story keep taking time out to put emphasis on but offer no explanation for a student who spends more time in a bathroom stall with some pornography than in the classroom?
Though the film’s pacing never gets into a groove, the script’s attention does keep coming back to that upcoming fight, and the fight does happen. As far as movie slugfests go, the choreography isn’t bad, it’s both funny and brutal, and credit goes to Day and Cube who both do most of their own stunts. But when the film ends, it does so without even a wisp of a memory of what went on for the mercifully brief preceding 90 minutes. It’s a throwaway piece of fluff for young boys, but it’s rated R, so they’re not even supposed to be able to see it.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
Written by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser; directed by Richie Keen
With Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris