MOVIE REVIEW: Why Kevin Hart’s new movie is ‘a bit off’
GOING into Night School, there were two sets of competing expectations.
On the one hand, the trailer did it no favours - it looked exactly like one of those dumb comedies that was going to be more cringe than funny. On the other hand, director Malcolm D. Lee made Girls Trip, which was raucously fun.
Where it ended up was somewhere in the middle - an overgrown Breakfast Club but without the emotional pathos.
There were some laughs, some giggles, even an occasional cackle, but for the most part, Night School is a lesson that often feels more like punishment.
Kevin Hart plays Teddy Walker, a smooth-talking high school dropout whose job as a barbecue salesman abruptly ends. Having never received his GED (the American equivalent of graduating high school), his new career paths are limited.
So it's off to night school at his old stomping ground where the principal is former school foe Stewart (Taran Killam). His class is full of misfits who never got a diploma and now want one for various reasons.
It's a fairly unsurprising bunch - Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who had kids too young and now wants to go out into the workforce and have some purpose, Jay (Romany Malco), a technology-fearing conspiracy theorist who wants a better cleaning job than the one going at the Best Western, Big Mac (Rob Riggle), a mover who made a deal with his teenage son, Mila (Anne Winters), a teenager looking to avoid juvie, and Luis (Al Madrigal), a waiter who was fired from his job because of Teddy.
Teacher Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) is an unconventional educator, invested in her seemingly hopeless students, but not in a sombre Michelle Pfeiffer way.
The "found family" make-up of the group is like TV series Community, if Community was less ambitious and less clever.
Despite setting Stewart up as the villain, the person who's most in Teddy's way is himself, always preferring the shortcuts in life instead of putting in the hard work.
Hart, as always, is a diminutive bundle of manic energy, constantly "on". If you respond well to his over-the-top style, then Night School will play mostly fine for you. But in a movie full of ridiculous personalities, Hart's attempts to out-do all of them starts to grate quickly.
Haddish, the breakout star of Girls Trip, is oddly pared back, perhaps to give Hart the big moments, and it's a shame that she's wasted - though she's probably the only actor whose character feels like a real person with a proper backstory instead of a collection of cliches and tired tropes.
There's a scene early on when Hart and Haddish's characters first meet and it's this whip-fast, mile-a-minute witty banter but you never get anything close to that glorious moment again.
Maybe it's the fact that there are six credited writers on Night School, but everything about it is just a little bit off.
Night School exists in this weird tonal purgatory, unable to balance its energy, where it's not the outrageous comedy that may have best suited Lee's sensibilities if Girls Trip was anything to go by. But it's also not effective as an inoffensive comedy because it can take it too far when it doesn't need to.
It has some set pieces that start off promising but they always go on for too long - as does the movie as a whole.
Night School is in cinemas now.
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