Night School (2018)
Kevin Hart’s latest comedy vehicle sees him star as Teddy Walker, a high school drop out whose job as a barbecue salesman literally blows up in his face, leaving him destitute in the wake of a propane explosion that levels the shop. What’s more, he won’t be able to keep his wealthy fiancée Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke) in the manner to which she’s accustomed, Teddy having lied his ass off to fool her into thinking he’s well off.
A buddy, Marvin (Ben ‘Jean-Ralphio Saperstein’ Schwartz, and yay for him), offers Teddy a gig at his investment firm, but there’s a catch: he needs to have his high school equivalency — ‘GED’ in Americanese — and so it’s off to night school for Teddy, who re-enrolls at his old stomping ground Piedmont High, where he must contend with a straight arrow teacher, Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), all the while hiding his studies from Lisa.
The combination of the hugely popular Hart and the rapidly rising Haddish, who was an absolute weapon in last year’s Girls Trip (the director of which, Malcolm D. Lee, also helmed this), promises something interesting, but Night School never manages to get much further up the comedometer than ‘Satisfactory.’
Perhaps it’s the sitcom-level set-up, which establishes Carrie’s class as a standard-issue set of oddballs, including Rob Riggle’s dumb guy Big Mac, Romany Malco’s paranoid nut Jaylen, Fat Joe’s incarcerated criminal Bobby (who attends class via Skype), and Mary Lynn Rajskub’s internally seething suburban mom Theresa, offset by an ineffectual adversary in the form of the school principal Stewart (Taran Killam), whom Teddy used to bully back in the day. Maybe it’s the overstuffed, throw-everything-at-the-wall nature of the script, credited to Hart and five other writers (counting regular collaborators Harry Ratchford and Joey Wells), which piles incident upon incident but never manages to get outside the obvious narrative ruts found on this well-worn road. Perhaps it’s that nothing is ever as funny as the initial barbecue explosion, and at the end of the day, you probably shouldn’t frontload your film with its biggest moment.
It’s not unspeakably bad, though — there’s a lot of charisma packed into this diverse cast, and they do what they can with the material they’ve got to work with. Still, given that Hart is both producer and co-writer here, ‘better material’ shouldn’t be out of the question — it’s not like he doesn’t have some pull these days, and you’d hope that he’d be using it to do more than just churn out this type of safe, generic fluff.
Night School is, charitably, distracting enough. If you’ve had a tough week, or perhaps even a big night, and you need some photons to bounce off your retinas without passing any further into your nervous system, it’ll fit the bill nicely. It’s a soporific comedy that requires almost no critical or emotional engagement, just a willingness to be led by the hand along its unnecessarily busy path until the foregone destination is reached. That’s something, I guess.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Travis Johnson