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'Night School' is remedial comedy

Phil on Film
Posted at 8:03 AM, Sep 28, 2018

"Night School" is no class clown.

The Kevin Hart comedy wears out its strained premise early on, then drags on like a droning lecture from a teacher who is fascinated by the sound of his own voice.

The inexplicably long comedy is yet another dip in Hart's up-and-down movie career. It seems that whenever Hart makes a funny, winning film that reminds everyone why he's the current reigning king of comedy, he follows it up with a stinker. For every "Get Hard" there's a "The Wedding Ringer." tor every "Ride Along" there's a "Ride Along 2."

And now, for "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," here is "Night School."

For an actor as prolific as Hart is, it's only natural that he let loose with a stinker now and again. His career philosophy seems to favor quantity over quality.

Director Malcolm D. Lee ("Girls Trip," "Barbershop: The Next Cut") has a checkered resume that matches that of Hart's. They get together here for an easy-on-the laughs comedy that could have benefited from some heavy editing, a couple more rewrites and a sharper supporting cast.

Hart plays Teddy, a high school dropout obsessed with maintaining a facade of success and wealth to impress people -- particularly his trophy girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke) -- and cover for his insecurities. Once he loses his job, he's stuck without career propsects unless he studies for his GED.\

Hence, his enrollment in night school. Tiffany Haddish, whose rising star may soon reach Hart levels, plays Carrie, his fire-breathing teacher. Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal and Anne Winters play his classmates, a "The Breakfast Club"-like gang of misfits.

We're good so far. Hart thrives in fish-out-of-water situations, and there are plenty of opportunities for him to explode in the high-pitched riffs for which he's known. Hart is best when he is plopped around a bunch of morons to mock, all while sprinkling in a sizable amount of self-deprecation to keep him likable. 

"Night School" provides plenty of morons, but gets into trouble by making audience members seem dumb for wasting their money on such a ramshackle, aimless effort.

The movie is at its best when Haddish and Hart are one-on-one, playing off of each other to create comic sparks. Most of their best stuff comes early on, and the rest --  especially their memorable MMA bout -- showed up in the trailer. 

This movie is yet another in a long line of comedies that fails to live up to the promise of its minutelong preview.

The dearth of laughs is enough of a drawback, but the film also gets into trouble with its sloppy way of addressing the topic of learning disabilities. The overarching message seems to be that those who struggle with dyslexia, ADHD or dyscalculia can "get over" their problems and ace their tests as long as they just buckle down and concentrate. No one will take the message seriously, but the oversimplification is still insulting.

That's part of the standard curriculum in "Night School," a waste of talent and time that makes you remember your own school days, watching the clock as it moves too slowly until it frees you from the classroom doldrums.

RATING: 2 stars out of 4.

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