You could be forgiven for thinking that you've stumbled into some weird ass Adam Sandler flick while watching Night School, Malcolm D. Lee's latest flick featuring the dream pairing of two of Hollywood's hippest and hottest comics right now, Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish.
Of course, you haven't stumbled into an Adam Sandler film.
You'll know this, partly because this film actually makes you laugh on occasion and it's been quite a while since Sandler's managed to do that and partly because despite being saddled with an almost ungodly awful script by committee both Hart and Haddish are far too committed to being entertaining to let Night School completely fall apart.
It comes close...very, very close.
It was Lee's Girls Trip that offered Haddish her breakout role, a role that attracted awards season attention and more than a few whispers, but nothing more than whispers, for the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, Night School is more successful at displaying Haddish's weaknesses as an actress and providing affirmation for the myriad of folks who basically scoffed at the idea of any kind of Academy Awards talk for the up-and-coming actress and immensely talented Haddish.
Despite her inherent likability and attitude, Haddish gets lost inside the role of Carrie, a fashionably ferocious night school teacher at Piedmont High School, the school where one Teddy Walker (Hart) flopped out of high school and now finds himself crawling his way back after his successful gig in barbecue sales meets an untimely demise and his best prospect to land back on his feet requires that he complete his GED.
A distant cousin to Billy Madison, though more clinically dumb, Teddy is a hustlin' motormouth with plans to smooth talk his way into that GED, a plan that gets disrupted when he discovers that his old high school rival Stewart (Taran Killam) is now the Piedmont High School principal and Haddish's Carrie is a kind but no nonsense kind of teacher who doesn't have time for Teddy's endless attempts to exploit the system.
Needless to say, a good majority of Night School's two hour running time involves Hart's all too familiar shtick of maniacal hijinks meets faux vulnerability. While we might not know the exact details of what's going to unfold here, there's never any doubt that Hart's going to find himself in a whole lot of trouble and Hart's going to find a way to get himself out of said trouble.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that's exactly what happens.
The pairing of Hart and Haddish is the only reason that Night School is even remotely watchable, yet it's also the reason the film is almost undeniably disappointing. Known to be longtime friends in real-life, Hart reportedly loaned Haddish some cash during a particularly rough stretch for the actress, there's simply no question that Night School should be a much better film than what unfolds on the big screen. Hart could play Teddy Walker in his sleep, though to his credit he's surprisingly "woke" and gives it his best even though much of the film feels like little chunks have been edited out throughout the film that would have potentially made it a little more cohesive but probably closer to six hours long.
Haddish isn't bad here, she's also inherently likable and funny, but it's abundantly clear that she's not quite as secure with weaker material and there's no doubt that Night School is weaker material that depends on its co-stars to survive.
It doesn't help Haddish at all that Night School can't seem to decide what it wants to be, almost simultaneously at times tossing in soundbyte social lessons about learning disabilities alongside Lee's insistence on potty humor, body fluids and actions by Haddish's Carrie that are so far outside the realm of possibility that it's nearly impossible to bridge that chasm between sincerity and stupidity.
They do not peacefully co-exist.
The cast of supporting players includes SNL alums and other familiar faces, likely because everything that unfolds has a comedy sketch sensibility about it. Teddy's fellow students include Mexican-American comic Al Madrigal's Luis, a former waiter familiar with Teddy for reasons you'll have to see but who finds himself at night school with dreams of being a dental hygienist and the next Justin Bieber, Romany Malco's robot-hatin' Jaylen, Mary Lynn Rajskub's scene-stealing and perfectly blessed Theresa, Fat Joe's kindly prison inmate Bobby and a handful of others who are mostly reduced to one-note caricatures. Taran Killam does fine as Stewart, though it feels like every time he's on the verge of being break out funny the script pulls him back, while Megalyn Echikunwoke's Lisa, Teddy's way out of his league fiancee', has the predictable task of being the girlfriend whose identity is more formed by Teddy's low self-esteem than anything resembling reality.
Production credits in Night School are perfectly functional across the board. David Newman's original music is for the most part timid and unimaginative, only occasionally lighting a spark or reflecting anything that's going on. While the film's use of animation to reflect the chaos inside Teddy's mind is occasionally evocative, more often than not it comes off as rather cheesy. The same can be said for a good majority of the film's lensing, while even the costuming, especially for Carrie, paints a different picture than what unfolds in the film.
Night School isn't a bad film. In all likelihood, it'll be just good enough to please most Hart/Haddish fans who've been anxiously awaiting this film for months. Discerning moviegoers will be expecting much more from Night School, as will anyone familiar enough with the immensely talented co-leads and just how fantastic they can be with the right material, but with a lack of decent comedies at the box-office right now and the box-office prowess of both Hart and Haddish it'd be immensely surprising if this film doesn't open up #1 and sustain some solid box-office numbers for the next few weeks.
Give it a try, but lower your expectations.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic