“Night School” (dir. Malcolm D. Lee) stars Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish and follows Teddy Walker (Hart), a man who dropped out of high school and is looking to pass his GED test as an adult in order to expand his employment options. He attends night classes at his former school where he faces Carrie (Haddish), a hard nosed teacher who refuses to be bribed to pass Teddy. The two butt heads for a few scenes, but it becomes evident early in the film that the antagonist will be Principal Stewart (Taran Killam), a former high school rival of Teddy’s. Malcolm D. Lee directed “Girls Trip,” one of 2017’s best comedies. It was funny, well paced and, most importantly, fresh. “Night School” suffers from being more of the same while trying so hard to be something original.
Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are both incredibly funny people. I have laughed at both of them at some point in their acting careers. However, I think that both are best used in moderation. By that, I mean that too much focus on one of them can get either stale or annoying. Both of them have their moments to shine here, but, as mentioned before, their act gets stale really fast. What kills their performances in “Night School” is the PG-13 rating this movie has. Oftentimes, the dialogue dubbing won’t line up with what the characters are saying, leading to a strange looking and sounding moment. This leads me to believe that someone in the production shifted this originally R rated product into something more people can buy a ticket for. The perfect example is when Carrie calls a member of her class a “stupid heffer.” No one calls people “heffers” and her lips looked like they said a different, R rated word.
Haddish and Hart also haven’t had as much experience improvising in films as many other comedic actors. So, scenes between the two or with the whole class are very loud without many laughs. Sure, there are a few solid jokes that garnered a chuckle from the audience I was with, but most of the comedy seems like failed improv. The banter usually starts casual, but will go downhill to rambling or, in a few cases, animal noises and barking. The great control Lee had over his “Girls Trip” ensemble is completely lost in “Night School.” From memory, the film only has a few set pieces that pay off for jokes, which often fall flat. The remainder of the runtime is wasted on characters rambling and really messy improv. It led to an extremely disappointing experience without much structure or laughs.
“Night School” has way too many structural issues to have been made in this fashion. When the opening credits were rolling, I took note of the fact that this film has six credited writers. This is often a bad sign for a film because too many writers usually leads to a messy script. It leads to many ideas that may work in a different context, but not in the film the director is aiming to make. A script should be written by one or two people that are on the same page with the story they want to tell. However, there is so much improv that doesn’t stick in “Night School,” that I am having a tough time believing they had a complete script when they started shooting.
But, notes on structure and performances aside, is this movie funny? I mean, obviously I didn’t go into this movie expecting the next great comedy in the last 10 years. That being said, it wasn’t all that funny. There are a few good lines and a few funny jokes, but they were certainly not worth the price of admission. It’s really disappointing because I really enjoyed Lee’s work in “Girls Trip.” He had a stellar cast who worked really well together. The two leads from “Night School” are best used as supporting pieces. Hart was a great addition to the cast of the sequel to “Jumanji,” just as Haddish was the best addition to “Girls Trip.” However, on their own, the two are trying their best to one-up each other and it leads to a loud, unfunny and annoying mess.