Night School (Malcolm D. Lee, 2018) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Tiffany Haddish and her Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee team up with comedy megastar Kevin Hart in Night School, the latest send-up to John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and other films centered on a group of losers. Hart plays high school dropout, Teddy Walker. Teddy believes he’s living the good life. He’s the top employee at a barbeque grill store in Atlanta, Georgia, and he’s living a high-end life while engaged to the most beautiful and most successful woman in town, played by Megalyn Echikunwoke. Sadly, unbeknownst to his fiancé, Teddy is living his luxurious life on lies and late payments. His little game of deception almost reveals itself when his job at the grill store goes up in flames. Teddy’s friend, played by Ben Schwartz, convinces him to go back to high school and get his GED once and for all. Teddy hopes to breeze through this class without breaking a sweat, but he’ll soon learn that his teacher, played by Haddish, is not like the other teachers he had in school.
Once aware of the fact that the script of Night School was the under the control of six screenwriters, you quickly understand why many of the plot elements and story setups and pay-offs rarely gel with another and instead fizzle out in their respective directions. As the trailers have suggested, we must come and see the film to have fun hanging out Teddy and his fellow night-school classmates (played by Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, and Mary Lynn Rajskub, just to name a few) as they struggle to cram four years of high-school academia into only a few months of classes. This promise fulfills itself in some small comedic fortune, but on the other hand, we know that more can be done with the premise.
These students’ journey can include all of the typical high-school hijinks and Kevin Hart antics, but we must also witness a clear and emotional line of cause and effect from the academic, and even life, lessons they learn from their coursework—a real satisfactory resolution anyone has felt during their stint as a student. Kevin Hart is in full form in Night School, but Hart is not doing anything we haven’t seen before. He whines; he falls down, and his noticeable short stature is brought up more than ten times. It’s a Kevin Hart flick—nothing more and nothing less. His character Teddy works when he is bouncing off of the other ne’er-do-wells in his class. Outside of that, he and his fiancé are caught in a tired liar-revealed subplot that you pray will go away every time the film cuts to it.
Tiffany Haddish is in full form here, as well, but this time we get a brief glimpse of her dramatic chops. Her character of Carrie has the “from the streets”-style wit and no-nonsense attitude that are perfect traits for the main lead of a multiple-seasons running television sitcom. We warm up to her instantly when we see how she holds her own with the students and the school’s faculty, including its overbearing principal, played by SNL alum Taran Killam. The potential is there in Night School, and it has characters that most viewers would gladly latch onto, but the script needs another pass under the gaze of a relentless screenwriter who could save the elements that would otherwise work in a format like television.