Directed by: Paul Leyden. Starring: Malin Akerman, Bella Thorne, Dulcé Sloan. Runtime: 1h 37 min. Released: November 22, 2020.
In Chick Fight, Malin Akerman plays a café owner named Anna whose life is in shambles. Her Prius just got repossessed and she just burnt down her café while smoking a joint with best friend Charlene (Dulcé Sloan). At her absolute rock bottom, Charlene introduces Anna to an underground female fight club (you’re allowed to talk about this one), a club that Anna’s late mother founded.
That aspect of the film is a fine idea. Anna’s mother, Mary (Julie Michaels), founded this place because she’s a therapist and these women were her patients. She wanted them to channel their emotions in an appropriate way by knocking each other out, teaching them to handle whatever the world throws at them. After being introduced to this world, Anna wants to get good at fighting and enlists washed-up drunken trainer Murphy (Alec Baldwin) to help.
After training for 30 minutes and punching open a watermelon, Anna gets misguided confidence to challenge the film’s villain, Olivia (Bella Thorne), to a fight. Olivia is game and gives her two months to prepare. Olivia’s villainy, by the way, stems from her wanting to put an end to the kumbaya circle at the fight club and turn it into something legitimately competitive.
This sets up Chick Fight for one of the most boring underdog stories I’ve seen as it follows the structure to a tee, but I never really believed Anna could win her battle. When we see her fight, she’s either getting knocked out on the opponent’s first move or she fights capably during what feels like the world’s longest hype-up montage to Sizzy Rocket’s “Sucker Punch.”
The song’s only 3:37 in length but it’s so repetitive it’s like a six-minute epic, and not any of the good ones. The key to a montage like this is a great song, not one that makes me want to claw my ears out because how many times the hook is repeated (“It’s like no other, tell me how you like my suckaaaaaa *whispers* punch?”). I hate it so much, Sizzy, and I’m sorry.
I lost interest in Anna’s journey because you know how it ends anyway. When a film sticks to its formula so hard and is this boring, it borders on unwatchable. As well, Akerman simply phones it in and, while I usually like Akerman, her phoning it in is not enough to deliver a performance anywhere close to convincing. Since she wasn’t interested, either, I also played games on my phone for about 10 minutes.
The good about the film is mostly just Dulcé Sloan as Charlene and Fortune Feimster as the co-manager of the gym, Bear. They’re good because they try and they’re the only ones here who don’t completely phone it in, as amusing comedic talents who know they can stand out by putting in more effort than Akerman, Baldwin or Thorne. I still didn’t find either hysterical, but that’s on the writing.
As well, Joseph Downey’s script just goes for obvious jokes or bad cliches, like Anna learning her father, Ed (Hall-of-Fame wrestler Kevin Nash), is gay and the main joke here is the size difference between Ed and his partner Chuck (Alec Mapa). “It’s like a Great Dane trying to mount a chihuahua,” says Chuck. Some of these moments are chuckle-worthy, but when it misses, it’s cringe-y (the same goes for the rest of the film in general). This is like when Anna finds herself at a gay bar and Ed just happens to be there and he gives a pep talk by saying he’s comfortable with himself even if she doesn’t accept it yet. The sentiment’s arguably there in Chick Fight, but this sequence of events felt like bad writing, and it only gets worse as it launches us into that “Sucker Punch” montage.
Never even mind about the cliched love interest (hot doctor Roy, played by Kevin Connolly). It’s all so bad and I haven’t even gotten to Bella Thorne. Thorne’s line delivery is awful, especially when she acts tough and tells Anna, “You’re gonna stand next to me and I’m gonna hurt you so badly.” Mean has never looked so boring. Her petty villain isn’t even fun to watch, where her main intimidation outside the ring is just staring at people broodingly.
The comedy and non-fighting scenes are flat, but the fights themselves have little life to them. Some shots in Steven Holleran’s cinematography during these fights is the quickest route to a headache; and director Paul Leyden uses at least two or three shots of slow-motion in Every. Single. Fight. Some shots are great, but I can only see someone get punched in the face and spit out blood in slow-motion so many times before it’s exhausting, and there are at least 15 uses of it. If you had a drinking game and took a shot for every use of slow-motion, I’m positive you’d be tipsier than Baldwin’s Murphy by the end of the film.
I get it, it’s honestly so fun to use new things when you discover it for the first time. It’s like when I started photography and discovered Dutch tilt (just tipping the camera at an angle). Almost every photo had Dutch tilt in it and when I brought them back to show my photojournalism teacher, he said, “Stop with the f#%king Dutch tilt, Daniel.” Heed that same advice for slow-motion, guys. Everything’s better in moderation.