Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Kevin Hart is a pretty good comedic talent. He has energy for days and is unafraid to look like a fool, but smart enough to know when to turn on his charm and intelligence. There is a reason he has become one of the biggest comedy stars in the United States over the last five years. He hit on a persona people enjoy and finds vehicles that let him showcase it. Sometimes those projects are worthy of his skills (such as last year’s entertaining Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), sometimes they waste him on a plotless, unoriginal script with unfunny running gags.
The latter is how I would describe his latest comedy, Night School, in which he plays a high school dropout forced to take a night school class to get his GED. It has a cast full of funny actors who are able to provide a few amusing moments based on their presence alone, but even they cannot produce more than the stray chuckle from this lazy copy of every “adult goes back to school” movie.
The story is as simple as I outlined above. Hart’s Teddy is a brilliant BBQ salesman who inadvertently blows up the store while proposing to his girlfriend. Now unemployed, his best friend offers him a job at his firm as a financial analyst, under the condition that he gets his GED first. So, Teddy goes back to his old high school where he resumes his feud with a former classmate who is now the principal, butts heads with his strict, but caring, teacher and bonds with the collection of misfits in his class. Little of this is funny and none of it is interesting.
Night School (106 minutes, minus the end credits) is one tired setup after another. The screenplay has six credited contributors, usually not a great sign for a cohesive comedy. That being said, there is talent in that area of the production as well. The writers include Kevin Hart, Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek and The Muppets) and John Hamburg (Meet the Parents, Zoolander and I Love You, Man). They have all worked on good movies before and I am sure they will again. But here the extent of the character development was choosing which actors to cast.
They at least had the right idea there. The second lead, suffer-no-fools teacher Carrie, is played by Tiffany Haddish. Besides Hart, she actually comes the closest to being able to play a real character. Carrie does have motivation for her actions, thus giving a little weight to her relationship with Teddy. That makes their obligatory insults and lame fart jokes even more disappointing.
The other students are a good group of funny people. Rob Riggle is the childlike Mackenzie, Al Madrigal is illegal immigrant Luis, Mary Lynn Rajskub is frustrated mom Theresa, Romany Malco is the paranoid Jaylen, Anne Winters is apathetic teenager Mila and Fat Joe is the incarcerated Bobby. All of them contribute a decent bit or two, however their characters are so underdeveloped that there is only so much they can do. Taran Killam has the same issue as the principal, though he does get a mini-arc.
Night School is not a real attempt at making an original comedy. It has been manufactured based on the (probably correct) assumption that audiences like Kevin Hart and would pay to watch him and Tiffany Haddish do their individual things together. As enjoyable as they and their costars can be, none of them are miracle workers. I know movies are about making money, but I am always disheartened to see one that appears to have been made with no other intentions.
1½ out of 5
Kevin Hart as Teddy Walker
Tiffany Haddish as Carrie
Rob Riggle as Mackenzie
Al Madrigal as Luis
Mary Lynn Rajskub as Theresa
Romany Malco as Jaylen
Anne Winters as Mila
Fat Joe as Bobby
Taran Killam as Stewart
Megalyn Echikunwoke as Lisa
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Written by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg