Film Review: ‘Night School’ Fails the Comedy Test

It took six screenwriters to come up with this mess of a movie. “Night School” is the worst comedy of the year so far, getting an F across the board. Unfunny, poorly made, overstuffed (it’s almost two hours long), it’s also a bad vehicle for stars Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart. Hart indulges in all of his worst comedic impulses, crafting a deeply unlikable character. Haddish is barely given a character to work with. More on them later, but this is just a mess. Full disclosure…occasionally I substitute teach at an actual night school on the side, for extra money (film criticism has not made me wealthy, if you can believe it). Oftentimes, it can be a draining experience. However, I can honestly say that my worst day teaching night school is more pleasurable than sitting through “Night School.”

The film is essentially a sitcom premise made feature length. However, instead of actually focusing on the interesting part, it obsesses over an unnecessary set up. A television show would have spent most of the time in the classroom. Hell, a better comedy would have. “Night School” barely does. It gives short shrift to all of the supporting students, torpedoing what could have been another asset here. A few of the throwaway jokes land, but that’s really it.

Teddy Walker (Hart) has always been bad at taking tests. In high school, he dropped out rather than take the standardized tests. As an adult, he’s hidden that fact, now a BBQ salesman living above his means. He has a wonderful girlfriend in Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), but he insists on driving a Porsche and paying for expensive meals. He’s ashamed and worries she wouldn’t like the real him. When his job burns down due to an accident while proposing to Lisa, his friend Marvin (Ben Schwartz) offers to hook him up with a plum gig in finance. There’s only one catch…he needs his diploma.

Thinking a GED will be a quick trip to charm a school principal, he soon finds that former school rival Gerald (Taran Killam) is in charge. Luckily, the Night School teacher Carrie Carter (Haddish) takes him on. However, he’ll actually need to go to class, which Teddy was not expecting.

In class, it’s a motley crew of adults (and one teen) who barely seem able to function at a grade school level. From a housewife (Mary Lynn Rajskub) to a robot conspiracy theorist (Romany Malco), to just a dimwit (Rob Riggle), it’s as broad as it gets. Of course, they’ll all become fast friends and initially try to cheat their way through class, only to find the value of learning in the end. Original, this is not. Funny, it isn’t either.

A better movie would have really set up a fun dynamic between Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart. Unfortunately, “Night School” is a bad movie, so that never happens. She’s very much a supporting player, with no role outside of the classroom. Any details about her life are complete throwaway lines, which is a shame. He’s mugging for the camera too much. Hart is at his best when reacting to extreme behavior, like in “Central Intelligence.” Here, that happens far too infrequently. They have non-existent chemistry too. It’s not a romantic pairing, but even as potential friends, there’s no spark here at all.

The classroom ensemble is a mixed bag. At times, Mary Lynn Rajskub gets in a funny remark. As does Romany Malco. Rob Riggle is wasted, however. The same goes for the other classmates, including Al Madrigal and Anne Winters. Other supporting players here include the aforementioned Megalyn Echikunwoke, Taran Killam, and Ben Schwartz, all of whom are wasted, plus Keith David, among others. Nobody leaves a mark. Sadly, that extends to the leads as well.

“Night School” is, oddly, very poorly made. Director Malcolm D. Lee is usually rock solid, but this is sloppy work. Lackluster ADR, clear stunt stand-ins, gags that go on far too long, and a terrible pace make this disappointing filmmaking from Lee. Then, there’s the script. A half dozen scribes suggest something that was worked on to death. The presence of John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller among the writers makes one think this was initially an edgier comedy. A funnier one too. Hamburg and Stoller, along with Hart, plus the trio of Matthew Kellard, Harry Ratchford, and Joey Wells came up real short. If this was a writing course, their grade would be the ominous “see me after class.”

Had things been done differently, “Night School” could have been a fun comedy. Here, however, we get something overlong, incredibly lazy, and just a would-be star vehicle. Somehow, both of the stars are wasted too. It’s a real shame. Instead of a fun laugh riot, we got a total dud. Avoid this one at all costs. It’s worse than a trip to detention.


GRADE: (★½)