"Night School" Review: A Lesson in Bad Comedy

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Let’s start with an alliteration. Night School begs for comedy charity chuckles. Let’s do the math. Kevin Hart plus Tiffany Hadish doesn’t make comedy gold. Now, let me take you to school.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Night School follows the story of Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart), a high school drop out who has used his quick wit and charm to get ahead in life. He has it all. His girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is a beautiful businesswoman, and the porsche he drives is equally elegant. The only problem is he’s maxing out on his credit cards to keep her impressed and in his life. After a freak accident following his proposal to Lisa, Teddy finds himself unemployed and unable to keep up the facade. So he decides to go to night school in an effort to become a financial analyst. 

From there we’re introduced to the ragtag bunch of night school students in Teddy’s class. There’s the stressed and under-appreciated stay at home mom Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), woke brother Jaylen (Romany Malco), former jock Mackenzie (Rob Riggle), high school teen queen Mila (Anne Winters), wanna be pop star Luis (Al Madrigal), and in confinement convict Bobby (Fat Joe).  They’re all led by an underpaid teacher named Carrie (Tiffany Haddish). 

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The problem with the film is that at the script level its thinner than a sheet of paper. With six names on the writing credits you would think that someone would say, “hey, let’s make sure the stakes are more than our main character has to hide educating himself from his fiance.” There is no major emotional investment for the viewer to take the ride on this unlikely story. Yet, the six writing credits may explain why the story goes into so many different directions. It’s a caper comedy, teen comedy (equipped with choreographed dance moves from a group of students during a prom scene), buddy comedy, and more. So we’re forced to hope that the banter amongst the characters will be worth the entry. It’s not.

You start out wanting to see more of Haddish, but quickly realize she’s underused in her role. Hart works too much and brings nothing new to this character. So the lesser names in the ensemble wind up bringing more creativity to the mix. Romany Malco is almost unrecognizable as Jaylen and he brings a full character to the screen and some good moments of humor. Even though Fat Joe can’t act, you can tell he was being himself as the Skyped in convict, and it makes for some good bits. In fact, the small details in the film are worth paying attention to. I’ve compiled my top five things to look for if you dare to go:

1) Fat Joe’s graduation jewelry.

2) The names of the sodas at Christian Chicken where Teddy works. Names like Ruth’s Beer and Coconut Christ Water were pretty funny.

3) How (Jaylen) Romany Malco brushes his hair. If you pay attention to what he’s doing, you’ll see it’s pretty funny.

4) Poor editing during the film. There are more than a few times when an action takes place from one angle and then the same thing happens again in the very next cut. (Haddish hitting Hart in the Christian Chicken parking lot for one.)

5) The terrible dub-overs in the film. There were plenty of times where you wonder if the audio is out of synch. My theory is that to keep the rating PG-13, certain dialogue had to be changed. There is a specific moment where heffer is used instead of the clear f-bomb Haddish actually said.

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Overall, this film is a great pitch concept and nothing more. Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are talented comedians at the top of their game, but this experiment didn’t produce a great outcome. I stayed awake through the end in order to write this review, but the man snoring extremely loud in the last ten minutes of this twenty-minutes-too-long movie provided more laughs and conversation amongst the audience than the movie itself. Save your money on this one!

Rating: D

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.