Stars of ‘Fist Fight’ discuss fresh take on trope

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Hamilton vs. Burr. Biggie vs. 2pac. Rocky vs. Apollo. American history is littered with legendary duels where only one can emerge the victor.

On Feb. 17, the mild-mannered and noodle-armed English teacher, Andy Campbell (Charlie Day, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), will square off against axe-wielding, no-holds-barred Ron Strickland (Ice Cube, “21 Jump Street”) in New Line Cinema’s newest comedy, “Fist Fight.”

Featuring a strong supporting cast of Jillian Bell (“Workaholics”), Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”) and Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”), “Fist Fight” is a throwback to the after school fist fights of high school movies but with a twist: the two brawling it out in the parking lot are teachers, not students.

On the last day of school, in the midst of senior pranks and dysfunctional school administrators, Campbell just wants to make it through to the dismissal bell and get home to his wife Maggie (JoAnna Garcia, “Once Upon a Time”), who is pregnant with their second child.

While just trying to do the right thing, he implicates Strickland, getting Strickland fired. Strickland challenges Campbell to a fist fight with the immortal words: “After school. Parking lot. It’s on.”

As Campbell braves the rest of the day, Campbell consults his colleagues, guidance counselor Holly Grossman and gym coach Crawford (played by Bell and Morgan, respectively), both of whom deal with their own set of problems.

Grossman occasionally dabbles in meth and nymphomania, while Crawford’s students have recently mowed a sixty-yard popular anatomical appendage onto the football field.

Sprinkled atop this bawdy mix of characters are the senior pranks themselves, from releasing a horse into the school hallways to playing heterosexual male-targeted adult content on the classroom TVs in the middle of class. For the actors themselves, the characters and script were the main draw.

“I saw the script and I called Newline, and I said I want to do this thing and they said, ‘Ok great,’” Day said in a conference with other college newspapers to promote the film. “I usually look at the overall story. Am I interested in the story? Then I look at the characters — do I like the characters? Do I think I could do something with it? And then when I read this script, it was exciting for me to just play the guy in the story … I also liked that I got to be a little bit more of a normal person in a sea of crazy people.”

Day, who is otherwise known for eating milksteak and jellybeans as Charlie on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” was already acquainted with “Fist Fight” director Richie Keen, who directed episodes of “It’s Always Sunny.”

“We weren’t too sure about Richie Keen [at first],” Day said, “but he cut together this really funny trailer with existing footage of Ice Cube and I in movies.” Keen created a fake trailer that won over the “Fist Fight” producers due to his incredible passion for the project. Another obstacle, according to Day, was finding other actors and fitting the movie into their

“Jillian has a show and Tracy is doing his standup, so we were trying to get everyone in the same place,” Day said. They even made changes to the script to adapt to the cast: Bell’s character Grossman was originally written as a man.

“We wanted a funny woman in the movie,” Day said, who also serves as executive producer. “We wanted Jillian in the movie. So Richie and I changed that part.”

“I read it, and it definitely was the weirdest character I’ve ever been offered to play,” said Bell. “And I love playing odd women.”

“Fist Fight” is also part of Tracy Morgan’s return to the silver screen following a serious car accident in 2014.

“Coming from my situation, it frightened me to do a movie,” he said. “I didn’t know if my comedic timing was back. I didn’t know if the confidence was there.  Then Charlie Day and Jillian and Richie Keen, they gave me confidence.”

Two may enter but only one will emerge victorious from the #teacherfight when “Fist Fight” hits theaters.