FILM REVIEW: Night School
Dwight Brown, News Wire Film Critic | 10/4/2018, 6 a.m.
It’s a match made in heaven — well maybe Atlanta — that’s where this film was shot. Kevin Hart, the rich, diminutive comic strongman shares the silver screen with the breakout star, and his former protégé, the very cray cray Tiffany Haddish. There’s a great potential for outrageous, sidesplitting humor and for the most part the duo lives up to that billing.
Expectations are also high because director Malcolm D. Lee is at the helm, fresh off his gigantic success with Girls Trip. The whacky script is the creation of five writers: Hart, Harry Ratchford (Kevin Hart: What Now?), Joey Wells (Kevin Hart: What Now?), Matthew Kellard (Real Husbands of Hollywood), Nicholas Stoller (The Carmichael Show) and John Hamburg (Zoolander). Hart and his crew establish a funny set of characters who act out like bad kids in study hall, only they’re adults working on their GED. Seemingly losers in life in need of a break.
Teddy (Hart) works at BBQ City selling ribs to happy customers. He’s dating Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke, TV’s Vixen), a professional who makes more money in a day than he makes in a month. She’s way out of his league, but he’s playing the charade of a rich boyfriend, with a Porsche convertible, fancy clothes and such. Teddy, a high school dropout, who thought he could hustle his way through a career, wants to get ahead in the world, but he’s limited by his pay grade and the lack of an education.
When he loses his job, his buddy Marv (Ben Schwartz, TV’s Parks and Recreation) wants to get the peppy salesman a position at his financial firm, but Teddy will need at least a GED to get started. Reluctantly Teddy heads back to Piedmont High School, his alma mater, to check out how he can get his certificate. He is mocked by the snotty high school principal Stewart (Taran Killam, Saturday Night Live), who has been jealous of Teddy going back to their days at that high school. The night school teacher Carrie (Haddish) and her new con artist student don’t hit if off at first. She doubts his dedication, and he thinks he is better than the other misfits in his night class. But sooner than later, Teddy realizes the importance of an education: “Night school is about second chances. Night school is all I have,” he says.
Truthfully, this comedy of physical pranks, bitch sessions, put-downs and social class jokes has its peaks and valleys. But the peaks are so high, thanks to the cast and dialogue, that the valleys are unnoticeable. There’s the romantic angle as Teddy courts Lisa and learns that the truth is better than deception. There’s the mentor/protégé relationship he has with his teacher, who is not above taking off her belt and beating his ass when he becomes hardheaded.
The comradery that grows between the values-challenged adult student and his equally lost classmates grows increasingly endearing: There’s Jaylen (Romany Malco, Think Like a Man), a brother whose job got replaced by a robot; the meek demented mom, Mary (Mary Lynn Rajskub, TV’s 24), who uses the class as a refuge from her family; the pouty millennial, Mila (Anne Winters, Sand Castles); the dumb ex-jock dad, Mackenzie (Rob Riggle, Modern Family); Luis (Al Madrigal, TV’s The Daily Show) an adult who wishes he was a teen pop star like Justin Bieber; and Bobby (Joseph “Fat Joe “ Cartegna), a convict who’s being skyped in from his prison’s multi-purpose room.