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Friday, September 28, 2018

Night School

There are six different writers credited to the screenplay of Night School, including the film's star Kevin Hart.  And what has all this combined effort given us?  A completely forgettable comedy that shows no trademarks of its talented cast, and will likely be forgotten by Monday by just about anyone who sees it this weekend.  The movie tries to get by on the comic skills of Hart and his co-star Tiffany Haddish, both of whom are clearly making an effort.  But their improvisational skills can only go so far when the movie offers them nothing in return.

The plot: Hart plays Teddy Walker, a barbeque grill salesman who is good at his job (he's won Employee of the Month on a continuous basis), but lives beyond his means in order to impress his much more successful girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke).  One night, he causes an accidental propane leak at work which winds up blowing up his business, and putting him out of a job.  His best friend offers him a job as a financial analyst at his company, but Teddy is a high school drop out, and needs to take the GED test before his friend can hire him.  Teddy decides to take a night school class, where he is paired up with a group of adult misfit students (including a convict, a juvenile delinquent, and an overworked mom with an inattentive husband and too many kids), as well as a smart-mouthed and underpaid teacher named Carrie Carter (Tiffany Haddish), who takes no nonsense from any of her students.  It's up to Carrie to whip Teddy and the rest of the class into shape, so that they can improve their lives.  Teddy, meanwhile, is mostly concerned about keeping his girlfriend in the dark about him having to go to night school, leading to a number of moments where the movie contorts itself in order to prevent Teddy from saying one single thing that would clear up any confusion.

Night School is harmless, but completely unnecessary.  It served only as a paycheck for the cast, who are given little to do here.  The film is a lazy enterprise, filled with narrative shortcuts, characters who barely exist, and just plain lame comic targets.  Example: Saturday Night Live's Taran Killam plays the principal of the school and Teddy's childhood rival, and the only thing the movie can think of is having him be a lame white guy who occasionally talks like a cliched black stereotype for no reason whatsoever.  The students in the night school class are especially generic, as they are not given any real character arcs.  This is bizarre, as the movie seems to be leaning in that direction, and keeps on telling us about how they're becoming better people under the guidance of their strict teacher, but we never actually get to see it.  This movie cares so little about developing these characters that at one point, one of the students falls off the roof of the school and breaks his arm, yet we never see him in a cast at any point afterward.

The few moments that do generate some energy are the scenes where Hart and Haddish get to improvise off of each other, and just go at it.  Sadly, the movie doesn't fall back on this as much as it should.  Instead, we get a lot of forced sentimental moments that serve as plot developments, and a ton of forced gags, such as Hart taking a job at a fast food restaurant where he has to dress in a chicken suit.  That's how lazy this movie is.  It thinks the suit alone is funny.  A good comedy would have thought up some crazy situations to put him in while wearing the suit.  This whole project has the feeling of something that was put before the cameras before the script had a chance to be truly thought out.  It reads like a first draft, and despite the large number of writers credited to it, it comes across as if nobody was really invested in this.  The filmmakers probably thought that Hart and Haddish could punch up the material, but talented as they are, they still need material to work with, and this script offers the bare minimum.

If I seem like I used words like "lazy" and "uninspired" too much in this review, I apologize.  Those are the only words that can be used to describe Night School.  Some movies leave you at a loss for words.  Then there are movies like this, where you struggle to remember anything noteworthy about it as you are walking out the doors of the theater.

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