A familiar comedy with heart that (barely) makes the grade.
Despite being a big fan of both Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, I went into Night School with very low expectations. For whatever reason, it felt like the kind of movie that wastes its best jokes in the trailer, but thankfully that is not the case at all. While it did end up surpassing those expectations, Night School has enough humor and heart to warrant a passing grade, so to speak, but not by a whole lot.
One thing that confounded me about the trailers is, judging from the house we see Kevin Hart’s character, Teddy Walker, in, it seems like he’s doing damn good for himself. This begged the question of why would this guy who is living in a seemingly dope house, needs to get his G.E.D. in the first place? The actual answer to which is so convoluted that it barely requires mentioning, except to note that, after freaking out while taking a standardized test, Teddy vows he’ll make it without those stupid tests, claiming he’ll have a great car, great girl, and a great life without being a “sheep” like his classmates… and wouldn’t ya know it… he accomplishes all of that.
Teddy ends up being a successful barbecue grill salesman, with a great girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a successful designer, a shiny new Porsche and a killer pad. But, after a ridiculous mishap, Teddy, who was already living far beyond his means, is in dire straights. While he does have several years of experience as a salesman, the market has dried up, and his old high school buddy (Ben Schwartz) could get him a job at his financial firm… but he has to get his G.E.D. first, which is made even more troublesome since his old high school rival Stewart (Taran Killam) is now the high school principal, and the night school teacher Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) is not quite susceptible to Teddy’s charms.
Much like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle or Old School or The Breakfast Club or countless other school-based movies, Teddy’s GED/night school group is filled with unique characters who seem quite familiar. All of them have their own reasons for being in night school, and they’re all admirable… except for Teddy, who is trying to hustle his way through night school like he’s hustled his way through life.
While there is definitely no shortage of humor and really hilarious jokes that stick the landing, there are also more than enough jokes that are quite flat, or that overstay their welcome, so to speak. Both Hart and Haddish turn in wonderful performances (although it seems they were both dialed down a tad, in a peculiar way), but there are a few exchanges between the two that are just too drawn out, like the first time they meet while in their respective cars, which serves no purpose except to cram a few more jokes in.
There is no question that this movie is Hart and Haddish’s show, but each of the other night school classmates are given some good moments, particularly Romany Malco’s Jaylen, whose paranoia and fear of robots his consistently hilarious. One of the reasons the humor is somewhat inconsistent could stem from the fact that there are six credited screenwriters on Night School, one of whom is Hart himself, making his screenwriting debut, and three others (Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells and Matthew Kellard), were seemingly hand-picked by Hart himself, since they have all worked on a number of different projects with the comedian. The other two writers are Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors) and John Hamburg (Meet the Parents).
Director Malcolm D. Lee, reuniting with his Girls Trip star Tiffany Haddish, does a fine job at the helm, even nailing some of the trickier scenes that involve Hart and Haddish throwing down in an MMA-style cage. Still, for a majority of the movie, with the exception of one aspect at the end, nothing was terribly surprising about this story, whether it be the same types of characters we’ve seen over and over again, to the paint-by-numbers plot that has been done to death (complete with an in-school ‘heist’).