Night School and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Malcolm D Lee
It’s always good seeing Kevin Hart! Okay, maybe not… BUT it’s always good to see Tiffany Haddish, right!? Ehh… fine, these are two VERY talented comedians but they aren’t always in the best movies as is the case with A LOT of successful comedians. Putting them together SHOULD be a match made in heaven, but then again maybe the filmmakers thought the script was so bad that even Hart couldn’t save it by himself. In any case, we can hope that there are at least a few good jokes in here even if the premise and the trailers don’t seem to be promising all that much. Does this movie manage to rise above expectations to be one of the better comedies this year, or are we doomed to suffer yet another mediocre effort from filmmakers and comedians who should be working on WAY more ambitious projects than this? Let’s find out!!
Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart) is your average Joe who is actually doing quite well for himself despite dropping out of high school and for reasons other than he’s a genius who went off to start his own company. Instead, he’s managed to find a good job at a barbecue grill store and has set himself apart from his peers due to his world class skills in customer service! I kind of find that hard to believe though considering he ends up accidentally blowing the place up not long after the movie starts. You’d think someone as professional as he is wouldn’t have done something like that, but in any case Teddy is now without a job which is doubly a problem as he’s been living paycheck to paycheck for some time; refusing to tell his girlfriend Lisa who has a WAY more successful job (Megalyn Echikunwoke) that he’s not as well off as he lets on and that he could REALLY use a few bucks to ease the stress. Luckily for Teddy though, his buddy Marvin (Ben Schwartz) JUST SO HAPPENS to have an even BETTER job for him all lined up… but he has to get his GED first! To make matters worse, the principal of the high school (Taran Killam) is someone he had beef with in high school (for some reason…) and is not about to let old grievances die off, even if he can’t TECHNICALLY keep Teddy from going to night classes run by Professor Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) which I assume is the way she prefers to be addressed. Can Teddy get his GED and that sweet new job without having his girlfriend finds out all of his deeply held and embarrassing secrets? What wacky hijinks will he get into with a classroom full of eccentric odd balls that have their own reasons for getting their GED? Can we send all six of the scriptwriters to night school? I don’t know about you, but they could really use some brushing up if this is what they consider “professional” material.
I honestly cannot bring myself to care about this movie either way which is STILL a step up from outright hating it, but there’s almost no point to this movie existing. Now that’s not to say that themes of adult education, male ego, and trying to learn in a system that doesn’t adjust for your needs and circumstances aren’t good topics to make a movie about, but the word of the day here is PERFUNCTORY. The movie brings up ALL of these topics and plenty more, but does nothing with them; preferring to stay as blandly innocuous as possible. I guess that’s why I can’t really hate it all that much, simply because it’s trying so little to do anything outside of expectations that it does an okay job of meeting them as there are jokes to be laughed at, performances to enjoy, and even something RESEMBLING a story arc for you to follow. It just feels so interchangeable with most of Kevin Hart’s other movies (Get Hard in particular) and feels underwhelming even compared to other movies that are similarly lightweight in terms of plot like Life of the Party. Heck, Jumanji is a better school movie than this one, and they were in school for what, five minutes of that film!?
The thing about this movie is that I’d say close to half of it is actually pretty funny as most of the setups in here lend themselves to some very humorous situations. The first part where Kevin Hart is clearly struggling to keep his life together, the first time we meet the other classmates who are all rather well realized archetypes, and even some of the bigger set piece moments start out strong and deliver some consistent laughs. In particular I thought Romany Malco and Mary Lynn Rajskub had the most to work with regarding the characters they were given and the lines they were asked to deliver. The problem with the humor though is that it just keeps going on and on as scenes refuse to end on a high note. It makes the film feel so much longer as it takes us forever to get anywhere because every ten minutes we’re are stopping dead in our tracks to make sure everyone has a chance at the microphone, and while a good chunk of it is solid material, the jokes wear thin and the pacing suffers considerably which makes I that much harder to sit though.
Making matters worse is that because of how long the comedy set pieces take, the film ends up having no idea what to do with ANYTHING that it’s trying to set up around them. Sure, most of the scenes start out well enough, but they don’t connect together to create a real sense of escalation or continuity and could honestly have been rearranged in almost any order. What does Kevin Hart’s job at the chicken restaurant have to do with him at night school? What’s the payoff for him going through the difficulties of working there? There is none! At most, there’s a scene where a character sees him at work which doesn’t amount to much (that scene could have taken place anywhere else because it’s not ABOUT Kevin Hart’s job), and we never get a moment where he USES his paycheck for something he needs, like paying rent on his ENORMOUS apartment. That’s just one example of how little resolution there is in this movie as subplots go completely unresolved in a satisfying way as does the central conflict which never makes itself feel present in any of the scenes. Kevin Hart is broke and can’t afford to keep up his lifestyle… except he still has a massive apartment, a loving fiancée, and can still manage to keep himself above water with a fast food job that he barely seems to go to. He loses his car, but apparently there’s a bus that goes straight from his house to the school and to his job, so no real problem there. Heck, even the other classmates who the movie spends a good deal of time with setting up their stories just kind of fizzle out at the end with either unbelievable resolutions (Mary Lynn Rajskub’s seemingly abusive husband) or never get resolved at all (Rob Riggle’s son who’s struggling in school as well). Maybe if they had cut out one of the scenes where Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart were ad-libbing to one another or had cut short some of the longer set pieces, there could have been time to make this feel like a complete story, but I guess they just felt that plot was overrated when they had such talented comedians to riff away in front of the camera.
I also kind of had an issue with the subject matter itself, or at least how it was handled given the problems with its pacing and its reliance on humor over story. I mean look, I’m not about to say that adult education is something we CAN’T joke about, but the film feels like such a shallow version of it that it misses a lot of real opportunities to not just have genuine heart, but to be even funnier than what we got. As I said, the subplots of the other classmates are cut woefully short, and yet there’s so much they could have done with them. Despite Rob Riggle’s son being a high school student, we never see him in school or at events where other students would be. He has one brief scene in a montage where he gets I THINK one line, and that’s it. He doesn’t even show up at the end where it would have only taken thirty seconds to give this story a satisfying and maybe even touching ending, but instead we get a long speech from Kevin Hart filled with empty platitudes about education and never giving up on yourself. There’s room for something a lot more in depth and meaningful, particularly when it comes to Kevin Hart’s learning disabilities and the way society (*cough* Toxic Masculinity *cough*) makes it a prohibitively uphill battle to overcome, but the film only gestures in that direction without any real commitment to giving it the kind of attention it deserves. It’s like a balloon at a New Year’s party right as the clock strikes midnight; lost and weightless among a sea of other balloons, only these are labeled fart jokes, pratfalls, and parodies of weird Christian restaurants.
The best I can say about this movie is that it’s inoffensively positive in terms of its overall message and the amount of smiles you’ll likely get out of it, but its barley reaching that level due to how bland the rest of it is; especially its underdeveloped the narrative. It might be worth checking out once it ends up on a streaming service and you’re looking for something to play in the background, but other than that I can’t really recommend it above plenty of other movies we’ve gotten this year. Pablum isn’t without SOME value, but we shouldn’t also mistake it for something it’s not which to be clear means that this isn’t particularly funny, it’s not all that insightful, and it’s certainly far from the best that anyone here has done or could have done with the material. I still can’t hate it though. I’ll probably watch it again one day; slack jawed and collapsed in my chair looking for any reason to avoid doing work for at least a few hours. Then again, I could just put on Baywatch again…