Night School review: The new Kevin Hart movie has potential, but needs to assert itself, so says Luke Ryan Baldock.
Night School review
There’s something inherently funny in adults returning to school. Of course, many education systems around the world are a joke in the first place (Oh snap!), but that fish out of water scenario is just ripe for reeling in. Whether it’s Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School, Adam Sandler in Billy Madison or even Homer Simpson facing off against a crusty old dean, reluctant underachieving men sharing their life experiences with others is smile-inducing. Now it’s the turn of Kevin Hart, cinemas current comedic cut out. He’s done a spy comedy, a cop comedy, a prison comedy, and a wedding comedy. What’s interesting about Hart is that he can play the alpha or omega male without changing his act too much. In The Wedding Ringer and Get Hard, he aids the likes of Josh Gad and Will Ferrell, whereas, in Central Intelligence and the Ride Along films, he’s subservient to Dwayne Johnson and Ice Cube. Perhaps it’s his stature that makes him so versatile?
Night School follows a familiar formula as one would expect. Teddy (Hart), through a complicated comedic scenario, must pass his GED, proof he has graduated high school, in order to obtain a well-paid job. As he already has commitments and responsibilities towards his ‘out of his league’ girlfriend, he must attend a night school programme, which is filled with other dropouts and misfits, and lead by drained but tough teacher, Carrie (Tiffany Haddish). The film takes its time to get going, starting in 2001 to show us Teddy’s fall from school, then showing him as a successful barbecue salesman in the present day, we’re provided with far too much set-up. It sounds like a strange complaint, with many comedies avoiding character motivation and development, but in a film this generic it merely pads out the runtime to nearly two hours.
The pacing problems don’t end there, unfortunately, with extending sequences of ad-libbing and repetitive jokes infesting every moment of the film. Funnily enough, these sequences have been trimmed down from what was previewed in the trailer. However, we’re still left with at least two sequences of Hart and Haddish making noises and faces at each other. We’re also subjected to Taran Killam’s reluctant and standoffish principal using his ‘black voice’ every other scene. This moderately funny joke is quickly taken out back and has the humour beaten from it, probably for being an overachiever. All this is particularly frustrating when you see there were six writers involved, and not a single belly laugh or memorable stand out moment could be concocted between them.
The misjudged screenplay also fails to tackle any themes of note, despite flirting with them on a regular basis. Carrie expresses how night school is a way for her to make rent, and yet we’re never shown her home life. When it’s revealed that Teddy may have learning disabilities, rather than handling it in a sensitive and pertinent manner, Carrie decides she can defeat Teddy’s dyslexia and dyscalculia by beating focus into him in an MMA ring. This actually works, and although it seems to be suggesting that great teachers think outside the box, it comes across that learning disabilities can just be beaten out of people.
Night School is never truly dislikable, thanks to the performances of Hart and the other night school students; Rob Riggle tones it down, Mary Lynn Rajskub lets loose as a ‘blessed’ housewife, Romany Malco gets a few chuckles as a technophobe, and Fat Joe delights as a prisoner who interacts via Skype. These characters, however, are more interesting than Hart’s protagonist and you soon lose sight of why he’s doing this. In the film’s defense, it does build an interesting relationship between Teddy and Carrie, without resorting to a romance subplot, but then feels it has to justify such a decision last minute. Night School may not be very funny, and may be overly generic, but, to quote many of my own school reports, ‘it has potential but needs to assert itself’.
Night School review by Luke Ryan Baldock, September 2018.
Night School is released in Uk cinemas on Friday 28th September.