It’s the last day of the year at an Atlanta high school. When English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) arrives in the morning, the senior pranks are already causing chaos. Campbell’s feckless attempts at restoring even a modicum of order mostly include hoping someone else will take charge. But who?
Not the security guard played by Kumail Nanjiani, defeated as much by his one-note role as he is by unruly teenagers, or guidance counselor (Jillian Bell), who confesses to both smoking meth and waiting for the last bell to ring so she can date the young men who are no longer officially her students.
The principal, played by the ever-irascible Dean Norris, is, in one of the arguably only two funny gags in the entire movie, being held hostage by a mariachi band as he presides over budget cuts that will leave him with fewer staff members than are currently being terrorized by mob rule.
It’s extremely satisfying, then, when history teacher Strickland (Ice Cube), wielding the weapon of choice—a baseball bat—of the disciplinarian principal Joe Clark, imposes an angry martial law in the hallways. But the order he restores is short-lived and we quickly learn his ire doesn’t stem from any grown-up or reasonable standard. In fact, the speculative causes of his non-stop rage, which he unlooses on anyone in his vicinity, are the stuff of legend.
It’s undeniable that writers Van Robichaux and Evan Susser have packed their screenplay full of reasons for Strickland’s displeasure. Indeed, there are far too many reasons (budget cuts, layoffs, students whose best idea of vandalism is to draw innumerable cartoon penises on school grounds) none of which gets to the heart of either Strickland, the true lead of the movie, or Campbell, the ersatz hero. There’s far too much happening to characters too thinly drawn to handle it all, so one challenging another to a fist fight in the parking lot after school
And director Richie Keen (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), brandishing his television sitcom credentials, prefers to pile it on. As Campbell becomes more desperate to avoid the confrontation with Strickland at the days’ end, we get far-fetched schemes such as one that has him buying two laptops because he’s too gutless to tell his wife he’s using one to bribe a student and a transparent subplot offering a lesson to cowards on how to handle your bully; it only works if you’re a 10-year-old girl.