‘Bar Fight!’ Review: Bitter Aftertaste Hangs Over Flat Romantic Dramedy

Two unlikable exes battle for “custody” of their favorite watering hole

Bar Fight
IFC Films

A sitcom episode stretched out to snapping point, “Bar Fight!” may have made for a mildly amusing 22 minutes. But you may need a few drinks to get through the full hour and a half.

It certainly doesn’t help that there’s not a single person here worth the hang. The entire concept hinges on abrasive talent agent Nina (Melissa Fumero, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and blandly hipsterish carpenter Allen (Luka Jones, “Shrill”), who have just executed the most enlightened breakup since Gwyneth and Chris consciously uncoupled. But when they unexpectedly show up at the same dive bar — the one they happily shared for five years — the gloves come off.

It’s decided that they’ll compete for custody, with one triumphantly “keeping” the bar and the other conceding defeat and moping off to another neighborhood. The staff tosses some suggestions in a Santa hat (it’s December), and the competition begins.

As Nina and Allen try to top each other in blindfolded darts, race to collect the most numbers from fellow patrons, and toss axes while tanked, everyone else in the bar works on their own issues. Weak-willed manager Dick (Vik Sahay) tries to wrestle back control from his employees, slick bartender Mason (Daniel Dorr) aims to line up a New Year’s Eve date, Allen’s business partner Milan (Julian Gant) is pushing some office upgrades, and Nina’s aggressively obnoxious friend Chelsea (Rachel Bloom) does her best to make everyone around her feel inferior.

The only interesting element, really, is why the busy and beloved Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Reboot”) would agree to a supporting role so underwritten she’s defined primarily by her inclination to greet people with “Hey, slut.” She and Fumero don’t have the BFF chemistry both actresses work hard to generate, but that’s because the characters are all sketched in two dimensions. Allen comes off just slightly better, if only because he’s a bit more sympathetic.

A low-stakes comedy should be a pretty good choice for a feature directorial debut. But writer-director Jim Mahoney, who co-wrote the animated comedy “Klaus,” has trouble finding the people behind the party. And since the movie begins with their breakup and flashes back only briefly, we have no reason to root for Allen and Nina as a couple, let alone as individuals.

At first, “Bar Fight”’s bite, and site, are vaguely reminiscent of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But Mahoney never sharpens his script with the satirical sting that might raise its aggressive comedy to a higher level. Too much of the movie feels simultaneously rushed and relaxed, as if a bunch of friends got together for fun, just to see what might happen.

In fact, it mostly seems as though someone came up with the concept while out drinking with buddies of their own. But “Hey, wouldn’t this make a great movie” ideas often look better on a napkin than a screen.

Most damning of all is the fact that the bar itself, generic and soulless, feels as conceptually generated as everything else. If we can’t even understand why Nina and Allen are willing to make any sacrifice to stay there, should we really be expected to do the same?

“Bar Fight!” opens in US theaters, on demand, and on AMC+ Nov. 11.