Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Ben Schwartz, Rob Riggle, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Taran Killam, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Romany Malco.
Written by: Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg
Running Time: 111 mins
Release date: 28th September 2018
Earlier this year we had the adult returning to education comedy (of sorts) with Melissa McCarthy, Life of the Party. Now comes the second comedy in which we have a major star taking on the school system, this time not college life but Night School and while the comedy is as lacking as the McCarthy film, it manages to be saved by a likeable lead and a film that has a surprising heart.
Teddy Walker is a brash, loud-mouth with a gorgeous girlfriend who finds himself in a state of very little money and no job, thanks to dropping out of education. With his tail between his legs, he returns to his old school, now run by another former student who had a dislike for Walker, to take Night School in order to get a qualification. In a class of other adults and a teacher, Carrie, who doesn’t see eye to eye with Teddy, he must prove to everyone that he can do this.
This is one of those comedies where you can predict almost every beat, every gag and every plot twist. Predictable is its middle name. You know that there will be ups and downs, falling outs, disagreements with the teachers but (and this is no spoiler) it all turns out alright in the end. This path has been around for years. There’s the ragtag bunch of fellow students with their own quirks while the central character will lead them astray to find ways of making life easier for themselves, willing to drag everyone else down with them.
Most of Night School, directed by Malcolm D. Lee, who gave us the entertaining Girls Trip, looks more like an extended sitcom, with the classmates caught up in all kinds of misadventures that could probably be stretched out as individual episodes of a TV comedy (my guess is that it’s a possibility). Sadly, the gags aren’t as strong as they could be. There are a few moments that will raise a smile or a chuckle but nothing more than that. There is also the lowest denominator humour (if you find someone being sick over someone else funny, then you’re in for a treat).
Where Night School really scores high, however, is its depiction of learning difficulties and equality. This is a film that never once points and laughs at someone who struggles with learning but instead embraces them. There is nothing racist or sexist either. In fact, in almost a throwaway moment, one of the characters casually announces their sexuality without anyone blinking an eye. This, particularly from this kind of comedy, was both refreshing and a surprise. It is a film that really has its heart in the right place.
It also helps that the cast are entertaining enough to forgive for the lack of big belly laughs. Kevin Hart, who has a huge hand in the writing and producing, takes full control of the film as Teddy, a man who may have the gift of the gab but cannot get a job that will be good enough for the woman he loves (although this is only in his mind). He fires the one-liners with gleeful abandonment and while some hit the target, the rest fall flat. Tiffany Haddish, who was the breakthrough star of Girls Trip, is the unconventional teacher Carrie, who takes on Teddy. While her voice can sometimes grate, she throws enough energy into the role to make her less annoying than she could have been.
The rest of the cast bring to life their thinly written characters and do their best to flesh them out. It’s good to see former 24 star Mary Lynn Rajskub back on the screen while Keith David as Teddy’s father may only have a couple of scenes but he dominates them with some of the better comic putdowns.
Night School is a film that’s heading in the right direction with its storytelling but just needs to be funnier. Not an original piece but compared to other comedies of late, this didn’t annoy me and I thought it had more heart than most.