When smooth talking con man Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart) loses the opportunity of a lifetime to set himself and his fiancé up for a bright future, he’s forced to pursue his GED as a means of opening up brighter job opportunities, pushed to his absolute limit by his night school teacher, played by Tiffany Haddish, who wants to see him succeed but above all else put in the effort to do so. I only wish that putting forth a more sincere effort to live up to one’s potential was advice that would be heeded by Kevin Hart himself, Tiffany Haddish, and director Malcolm D. Lee.
Hart’s brand of cinematic comedy has typically come in one of two flavors; either he and the production around him is an unexpectedly charming good time or, more often than not lately, broad, loud, overacted and underdeveloped, straying away from offensive but still thoroughly unpleasant in how few laughs stick despite the relentless energy levels that he pumps into the film.
“Night School” falls firmly into the latter territory. As if the opening scene of Hart playing himself as a high schooler isn’t signal enough that the antics aren’t afraid to get flat out cartoonish, the man later gets blown out of a building explosion and half way through the windshield of his car with no scratch as the punchline to a gag that lets him scream his patented Kevin Hart shout. When an opportunity arises to take the easy joke, they take it happily if they bother mustering up the low levels of energy and creativity to lazily finish the joke at all, and the punch lines continue to stack until the end, where the movie seems to be operating under the assumption that it had some sort of heart all along.
This may seem somewhat harsh for a film that doesn’t seem to be striving to be high minded, which there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, but the bigger problem with “Night School”, beyond that it isn’t quite funny enough to rise above its own unapologetically pedestrian presentation, is all of the potential that it wastes. Kevin Hart isn’t just a good comedian but he can be a particularly solid comedic actor and even a decent leading man in the right kind of project. This goes ditto for Tiffany Haddish and the chemistry the two have on display at the height of their riffing generates some of the best laughs of the entire movie.
The film is not a total loss; some of the set pieces do work to the effect of a few chuckles and the cast occasionally gels well. Unfortunately, it’s also the type of project that begins to type-casts those involved, in an amateur production from somebody that I think is capable of more than he lets on. Maybe Malcolm Lee thinks that this sort of studio fodder is all that he can pull together, but I still adore “Undercover Brother” and am holding him to a mildly higher standard because of it.
Finally, the very notion of “Night School” as a concept as executed is a missed opportunity to look at an issue of growing prominence. The movie strives a bit too hard to make the sort of people that attend night school something of the butt of a joke that’s not quite as hilarious as it seems to think. Nontraditional recipients of education are more prevalent than ever now and more often than not, whatever their troubles may be, they still tend to be fairly well adjusted people simply trying to better their lives and going against the stigma of society that tells them to deal with what they have. “Night School” even attempts to tackle the issue of learning disabilities, looking at the problems we have of shaming people that struggle in classroom environments and the impact that can create when somebody leaves said environment, undiagnosed and unable to cope.
Unfortunately, like its titular concept, the idea ends up being lip service not given its proper due outside of being meant as a point of sympathy for an unlikable character operating in an inconsistent sitcom-esque world and while the implications could be viewed as troubling I was never really angry overall so much as disappointed.
What you see is definitely what you get with “Night School.” I can’t necessarily say that it’s one of Kevin Hart’s worst films but even if one were to judge it as a straight bottom-of-the-barrel comedy, he’s done far funnier things in movies you don’t need to go out to see in theaters.
2 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.