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Movie Review: Night School

night school posterWe’ve all seen Night School before, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. While the new Kevin Hart film feels a little bit paint by numbers, it still delivers laughs and highlights the comedic talents of it’s amazing cast, chief among whom is Tiffany Haddish who owns every scene she is in.

Our story centers around Teddy Walker (who should just be named Kevin Hart), an extremely successful BBQ salesman in Atlanta. He’s about to propose to his girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke who you may recognize from the CW’s Arrowverse shows as Vixen) but he has a major secret — he is a high school dropout who is living paycheck-to-paycheck in order to impress her with money that he doesn’t have. When hijinks eventually ensue, he finds himself in need of a new job and his best option is to go back to school pursue his GED at night school at his previous high school to get a job in finance with his best friend Marvin (Ben Schwartz — yes! Jean Ralphio!).

However in a bit of irony, the school’s principal is now the kid who he bullied in high school (Taran Killam), who looks to return the favor with some humiliation of his own. Luckily for him the night Schools teacher is the unorthodox but strict Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), who won’t give up on either him or any of the other misfits in his night school class. Oh, and those miscreants? Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Al Madrigal, Romany Malco, and Fat Joe— who joins class via Skype from prison.

This movie has a lot of jokes, and most of them are funny. The the script seems to take a shotgun approach of trying to pack as many little jokes in as possible and hope that some of them hit. Luckily a number of them do, mostly because of grade A comedic talent, especially Haddish, who may be one of the most underrated comedic talents in Hollywood right now.

Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t know exactly where it’s trying to go. There’s an extended dance break where they go to the school’s prom, because I guess why not? There’s also a side plot involving Hart working at a Christian themed chicken joint which, while funny, doesn’t really fit anywhere else into the film. But oh well. It’s mostly funny.

Hart also does something really smart here which is allow himself to be the fast-talking flim-flam artist, but he still mostly a straight man. This allows Haddish to take the lead and his supporting actors to do most of the heavy lifting.

The film almost takes a turn as a sort of  heist film in a strange Act II break when they decide to rob the principal’s office to get the answers to their midterm test. Even though this mostly works, it’s still just a very strange turn for the movie which doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to do.

Speaking of not knowing what it wants to do, the opening of the film very clearly sets up a sibling rivalry with a twin sister for Hart to deal with, and then drops her the entire rest of the film.

The plot is fairly thin, the character arcs are fairly thin, and you can see where everything is going from miles away. But at least the jokes are mostly funny along the way.

However, it sometimes devolves into more shocking or simple gross-out gags and humor, which just doesn’t work. Like at all. In their attempts to justify their R-rating, they really don’t do anything good with it.

What is truly unfortunate is that films like this will unfortunately be marketed as “Urban” (read: black only) films. It’s incredibly troubling that more and more often films are only marketed to a certain segment of the population, even though there’s nothing inherently racial about the film.

There are a few incredibly funny jokes about being “woke” that somehow involve robots. There’s also a very funny call out of Principal Stewart using “black voice” which makes an excellent counterpoint to this summer’s breakout hit Sorry to Bother You and their use of “white voice.” Though nowhere near as brilliant, they’re talking about some of the same things, but drawing attention to the fact that when white people “code switch” they do it to pretend to be “cool” rather than it being a matter of survival and identity for others. It’s an issue much better dealt with in the upcoming The Hate U Give, but it’s nice to see a comedy trying at broader social comedy.

The biggest problem is we’ve seen this movie dozens of times before. However if you are a fan of Kevin Hart and this cast, you will get some laughs out of this. But if there’s one reason to see this, it’s Haddish. Hopefully this will be another crossover success for her like Girls Trip and we will get to see more of her– at least as much as we do of Kevin Hart.

2.5 out of 5 stars 

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