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Review: ‘Night School’ Has Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and a Few Laughs

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

In “Night School,” Kevin Hart plays a student in an adult education class, and Tiffany Haddish plays his teacher. Just by writing that sentence, I’m afraid I may have raised expectations too high. But now maybe I’ve lowered them too far. Not that this ragged comedy, directed by Malcolm D. Lee, is bad, exactly. It proposes a concept — summed up in the title — and follows it to a logical conclusion. But it isn’t exactly good either.

In addition to Mr. Hart and Ms. Haddish, the cast includes a bunch of reasonably (and in some cases unexpectedly) funny performers, among them Romany Malco, Fat Joe, Rob Riggle and Mary Lynn Rajskub. They are allowed to be sillier than either of the two stars, who are saddled with the thankless task of providing sentimental ballast that nobody really needs. Good teachers are a blessing, and believing in yourself is important, but there are plenty of other movies that dispense those lessons more effectively than this one.

Even though he lacks a high school diploma — the result of a youthful anti-standardized-testing tantrum — Teddy Walker (Mr. Hart) has found success in life. A sales job he’s good at, a shiny Porsche, a beautiful fiancée (Megalyn Echikunwoke). A mishap (propane, candlelight) costs him the job, and to land another one — in finance, working with his best pal (Ben Schwartz) — Teddy needs a G.E.D. He enrolls in a class taught by Carrie (Ms. Haddish) and attended by a motley crew of strivers. Classes are held in Teddy’s former high school (the film is set in Atlanta), where the principal just happens to be his teenage nemesis (Taran Killam).

The plot zigs and zags and sometimes accelerates in the direction of genuine hilarity — when Teddy takes a job at a fast-food restaurant called Christian Chicken, whenever Mr. Malco opens his mouth or Ms. Rajskub blinks her eyes — only to downshift into sloppy, easy jokes and gags. When it comes to the comic talents of Mr. Hart and Ms. Haddish, “Night School” (made under the auspices of Mr. Hart’s production company) is less a showcase than a series of teasers. Teddy and Carrie first meet in traffic, as he overhears a preposterous and profane conversation she is having on her cellphone. Later they spar verbally and even physically (in a kickboxing ring with appropriate gear).

You can’t help but think that someone should put these two in a movie together. A real movie, which “Night School,” like more than a few big studio features these days, isn’t quite. It’s not as woefully dull as “Life of the Party,” which also sent its star (Melissa McCarthy, in case you’d forgotten) back to school. But it doesn’t have the snap and surprise of “Girls Trip” (Ms. Haddish’s breakout, directed by Mr. Lee), or the snarly anarchy of the “Ride Along” movies, which paired Mr. Hart with Ice Cube. Like Teddy, the movie doesn’t aspire to more than a passing grade.

Night School
Rated PG-13. Overgrown schoolkid high jinks. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes.


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