‘Chick Fight’ Review: Malin Akerman’s Female Empowerment Comedy Is a Flurry of Pulled Punches

The movie’s name is perhaps its sole stroke of genius: Just hearing the words “Chick Fight” immediately body-slams expectations to the mat, after which Paul Leydon’s anodyne comedy manages to just about put them in a submission hold. Dude, one can almost anticipate saying, it’s called “Chick Fight,” what did you expect? On the other hand, the very crowd attracted by the R-rating and promisingly un-PC title may feel cheated. Instead of the cleavage, hair-pulling and Jerry Springer antics it teases, “Chick Fight” serves up a blandly formulaic and scrupulously inoffensive tale of female empowerment.

Anna (Malin Akerman) is having the kind of overkill Bad Day that beautiful women in Hollywood movies tend to have as proof that they’re just as much of a screw-up as you are, lol. Sitting on the toilet, brushing her teeth, the pointedly non-sex-having Anna rolls her eyes at her neighbor’s loud, prolonged orgasm, before realizing that her Prius is being repossessed. Oh no! Now this radiant putz is late for work at the failing coffee shop she owns, and that will, later on, burn to the ground uninsured when her BFF Charleen (an engaging Dulcé Sloan), a plus-size Black lesbian police officer whom I’m afraid one can only describe as “sassy,” lets her joint fall into a puddle of home-made moonshine. This is the result of a late-night pity party called by Anna to talk through her discovery that her Dad (ex-wrestler Kevin Nash), having moved on from the recent death of her beloved mother, is now dating a man. As Anna sits glumly outside the burning cafe, Charleen decides it’s time to introduce her to the all-woman underground fight club she runs.

Unbeknownst to Anna, her psychologist mother founded the club as a way for her female patients to gain self-confidence by getting the s— kicked out of them, and to find community by kicking the s— out of others. Such paradoxes remain blissfully unexamined, however, as Anna is quickly embroiled in a ginned-up rivalry with the club’s snarling Bad Girl, Olivia (Bella Thorne); a ginned-up romance with the club’s off-hours doctor, Roy (Kevin Connolly); and a ginned-up mentorship by whiskied-up trainer, Murphy (Alec Baldwin, who’d be phoning it in if he could reach the phone from whichever hammock he’s snoozing in). On palm-fringed, turquoise-watered beaches — DP Steven Holleran’s tampon-commercial aesthetic is as flattering to the Puerto Rican tourist board as to the exposed midriffs and sweat-spritzed shoulders of its attractive cast — Anna pummels watermelons, does pushups and carries buckets hoping to build up to a final showdown with her personal demons.

Well, make that demon singular. Despite all the effortful piling-up of adversity, Anna’s sole problem is that she doesn’t believe in herself enough, which is understandable given that a character this sunny, uncomplicated and utterly hangup-free is difficult to believe in. The revelation of her Dad’s bisexuality is a case in point, emblematic of the way the contrived screenplay (typed by Joseph Downey) pulls every one of its potential punches. Implicit in how it’s played — as a rug-pull — is the dubious assumption that it’d be much worse, or at least funnier, to discover your widower father is in a new gay relationship than a straight one. But after registering shock for approximately two microseconds, angelic Anna is immediately 100% supportive, which is all right and proper, but then why make his sexuality an issue at all — let alone the subject of a limp sight gag about the disparity of build between her hulking Dad and his cherubic, bespectacled Asian lover (Alec Mapa)?

Similarly, the love triangle between Anna, the vampish Olivia and Dr. Roy is hamstrung by the honestly laughable notion that two such supermodel types are vying for attentions of this nonentity, as though in order for the film’s entry-level feminism to work, the male love interest has to exude all the dangerous carnality of a carton of premixed pancake batter. Perhaps the filmmakers expended all their offensiveness capital on that titillating title and then felt the need to repeatedly apologize for it with unceasing (if very skin-deep) body-positivity, sex-positivity, LGBTQ-positivity, racial colorblindness and you-go-girl camaraderie. Which might all be laudable if it were remotely credible and if it didn’t entirely defang the comedy. “If this was a movie it would be rated R for ‘raunchy,’” says one unnecessary side character, unaware that the movie he’s in is R for right-on.

Relentless niceness aside, the fight scenes are engaging enough, artfully edited with balletic slo-mo sections and blood squib usage to imply contact, though no one ever sports so much as a bruise until Anna gets the kind of high-cheekbone scrape that manages to make her look even prettier. And, all set to a surprisingly decent soundtrack, featuring a couple of songs by Akerman’s musician sister Jennifer, it passes the time amiably enough for a film so rote you could set your watch by its beats. There’s no depth, no memorable jokes and no real point to it, but then again, dude, it’s called “Chick Fight,” what did you expect?

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