“Night School” doesn’t quite make the grade

Nutshell: I shouldn’t watch the end credits of a Hart & Haddish comedy trying to figure out why I’m unimpressed with what I just saw. But I was. Give these two better folks behind the camera. Grade: D+

“That’s what’s up.”

Story: Teddy Walker never finished high school, but he found himself a stable job as a salesman, which kept him more than cozy for seventeen years. But when he has to try for a new job, he finds his lack of a diploma keeps cropping up. Onward, to night school!

Genre I’d put it in: Fumbled Attempts At Bringing Talent Together

Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Original, though it feels like any number of school-based comedies.

Gotta say: Kevin Hart helped write this?  Really?  Funny Kevin Hart whose stand-up I love watching? That one?  Okay, so he wrote it with four other guys…and School is a reminder that too many cooks spoil the screenplay. While Hart is his usual fun-but-deprecating onscreen character, School drags up the usual cliches and overworks them to the point of madness. Yes, a few jokes land – and when they land they’re really good – but most are dragged on for far too long, and/or are made for an audience that enjoys fart jokes and barf. Several plot elements are telegraphed so hard I had to stop myself from saying “well, duh” when the payoff hit, for fear of pulling my screening-mates out of their experience. I needn’t have bothered; they all looked as confused as I was.

The bright point in this film is Haddish as Carrie, Teddy’s night school teacher. She steals every scene she’s in by sheer charisma. Haddish’s ability to turn her emotions on a dime works well here, as Carrie goes from caring teacher to take-no-shit woman in a heartbeat. It’s fun just to watch her work.

Meanwhile, the rest of the night class is wasted talent. Mary Lynn Rajskub (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Anne Winters (13 Reasons Why), Romany Malco (Weeds) along with Rob Riggle and Al Magrigal from The Daily Show are all but wasted as cardboard cut-out characters with very little to do but ham it up when the camera is pointed at them.  I’d describe each character, but really? It boils down to The Prim One, The Delinquent, The Conspiracy Theorist, The Foil, and The Fucking Idiot. The actors do their best with what they’ve got to work with, but with tired and unfunny material most scenes fall flat. And don’t get me started on how the film wasted Taran Killam as Teddy’s former school rival and current Principal, Stewart. The writers didn’t seem to know if Stewart was supposed to be funny, mean, or endearing, so the character ends up a complete mess.

I do have to applaud this film for a few things. The scenes with night school student Bobby, a Skyped-in prison inmate played with pitch-perfect deadpan by Fat Joe, are fun, and Joe does a lot with very little time per scene. I liked how Carrie decides to have Teddy tested, to see if there’s any reason why he’d be doing so poorly. And Teddy has to really work in order to get through the class, it’s not like he’s labeled and then that tidbit is dropped. That they give serious discussion to learning disabilities, and the fact that learning disabilities aren’t anyone’s “fault”, was a very nice touch. There were also a subplots that didn’t go as I’d expected, and that this movie was able to circumvent some overused tropes kept me engaged as the movie wound down.

Oh Night School. I had such high hopes. But right now all I want to do is watch something else – anything else – to get my mind off of the frustration I feel after seeing so much talent in such a uninspired film.

Tl;DR? – Catch this one on Netflix, or just watch these talented comedians do their stand-up.

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