In his latest comedy, Kevin Hart plays Teddy Walker, a high school dropout who has managed to do well for himself. He is happy with his job as a salesman at Joe’s BBQ City and has just become engaged to his beautiful, loving girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke, ‘CSI: Miami’). However when Joe’s shuts down – through no fault of Teddy’s own *cough* – Teddy is forced to go to night school to complete his GED exam to get a job as an investment advisor opposite best friend Marvin (Ben Schwartz). Teddy’s teacher is the vivacious Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), who is committed to her job and won’t tolerate troublemakers or chancers in her classroom.
There are a number of levels on which ‘Night School’ could have worked as it looks at the all too relatable area of the pressure of exams. In its opening scenes, a number of familiar notions from one’s school days are put into play, such as the idea that everyone is on an even playing field when it comes to learning, that one needs to ‘just study harder’ to get the results, that one shouldn’t need to ask for help. There’s even an obligatory prom-set scene. Its ending is about resilience and not giving up paying off, showing that working hard pays off, even if it takes a while. However, a feel-good message does not a comedy make. Comedy makes a comedy, and there is little to be found here.
Hart continues to display influence from Eddie Murphy as he plays a wisecracking character who talks himself as much into situations as out of them. Haddish, fresh off her acclaimed turn in ‘Girls Trip’ (director Malcolm D. Lee helms this film too), brings a more pared back performance in Carrie, likely owing to her not wanting to be typecast as the kooky character. While other actors populating the classroom include proven talents like Anne Winters (‘13 Reasons Why’), Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub (‘24’), Al Madrigal and Romany Malco (‘Weeds’), with ‘SNL’s Tarran Killam playing the school principal, none of them are that funny. The movie is full of these painful pauses, inserted specifically as beats for laughter, but they’re met with silence, not even a giggle. One would not so much lean towards blaming the actors as the writers, as not one out of the six of them (Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg) got it right.
‘Night School’ will likely affect Hart and Haddish’s careers little in that it won’t make them any more popular, since they already are, and won’t damage their reps either. While they are appealing as the leads, the movie is lacklustre.