In what is a no-brainer of a box office-sparking team up, Night School finds comedian stars Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish bouncing off each other in a light comedy that could offer a decent time for their big fans… but may prove to be a bit of a task for others.
Hart plays Teddy Walker, who we’re made to believe is punching way above his weight with his beautiful, successful girlfriend. A look at his youth at the beginning of the film shows that he’s never been one for school, and he walks out on a major exam to solidify the point. He’s now a BBQ salesman, a factor he purposely keeps vague to his girl. When a big job opportunity quite literally goes up in flames, his friend offers him a chance to work at his financial investment firm, with one caveat; he must get his GED (certification of high school-level academic skills). He decides to attend a night school, run by a no-nonsense taking, well-intentioned teacher, Carrie (Haddish).
It goes without saying: if you love Hart and Haddish, the narrative and humour here could be a little easier to take. Alas, the two stars aren’t really given the right script to work with in Night School, and it seems as though their leeway levels weren’t balanced out well either. Hart, who is also on board as co-writer and producer, is free to do his thing: in peak screaming, erratic form, which gets tiresome quite quickly without the right supporting cast or comedic set pieces to suit all the yelling and repetitive reaction shots. Haddish has more of a “role” to take on, but while she shows she can downplay the more wild antics she’s shown before, her part comes across as bland in what’s being marketed as a two-hander with two funny stars.
It’s surprising that it took six – SIX – screenwriters to bring Night School to life. The simple plot is a broad enough canvas for much more creativity than is offered here. The humour is kept to achingly safe and simplistic levels, as though the writers didn’t quite know how to play within a more crowd-friendly arena. That’s not to say that what was needed was more of a crude bite, but perhaps more freedom to dabble in more adult-oriented humour may have provided the team more creative opportunity, because the lack of spark here is severely felt throughout, with almost all jokes and performances rolling on neutral.
Structural issues abound, from the clumsy development of the overall narrative, to the awkwardness of the set ups and punchlines. Once the joke’s been made, the scene often doesn’t wrap, taking it even further and longer in the hopes that you’ll give in and find it hilarious. It doesn’t work. Predictability and overly familiar gags are unfortunately key here, and that cringe factor peaks a number of times, reaching especially high levels when that dancing begins towards the end.
It’s not all terrible news, as the first quarter does hold a couple of amusing moments and Hart and Haddish have enough chemistry to hold some scenes from completely falling apart. But that’s nowhere near enough. Night School is a poorly written, overlong (111 minutes; around 20 mins too long for this) attempt at a feature comedy that simply can’t get a passing grade.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★☆☆☆
‘Night School’ hit Australian cinemas on 27 September and US cinemas on 28 September.