‘Night School’ struggles for laughs

Brian Lang, Film Critic

Kevin Hart, Taran Killam, and Tiffany Haddish in Night School (2018). Photo Courtesy of IMBD

The summer hits have come and gone and the Oscar-worthy films are yet to hit the screens, so the box office is left with little to show at the moment. One of the more interesting of the meager offerings this week, however, is the comedy “Night School” directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Girl’s Trip.)

Teddy (Kevin Hart) is a recently unemployed salesman who must get his GED in order to get a lucrative marketing job. After returning to his old high school and being placed in a class with a single-mom, immigrant, teenage drop-out, and prisoner (via Skype), Teddy is taught the value of hard work through his serious but compassionate teacher Carrie (Tiffany Haddish).

Despite a promising idea, the only thing this movie has going for it is Hart and Haddish as the leads. These two masters of comedy throw one-liners back and forth and fill scenes with hilarious physical comedy that carries audiences through the films lackluster story.

Hart plays his usual schtick as the short, self-sabotaging, funny guy while Haddish has an inexhaustible supply of charisma that can make even the weakest jokes seem funny. Their pairing is a match made in heaven and I hope there are more (better) films with the two of them in the future.

The storyline almost feels irrelevant around these two, and the movie would have certainly benefited if the directors backed off to let the two stars truly shine. Instead, Haddish and Hart are yoked with preaching a half-baked lesson on the benefits of persistence that’s shoehorned into every non-funny scene. It’s in these teachable moments that the comedic element drops off, leaving the audience waiting for the next funny scene or gag to roll around.

Putting all of that aside, “Night School” has some good moments. Many of the scenes have the elements of great comedy, especially when Hart and Haddish are given the chance to really work off of each other. Seeing Carrie push around Teddy while he’s in a chicken suit is definitely worth the other dragging moments the film throws at you.

The smaller roles are filled with good comedians who squeeze every ounce of humor they can get out of them, allowing the movie to make repeated jokes about parenthood, “wokeness” and prison, depending on the particular character’s small backstory. However, many talented actors (Ben Schwartz from “Parks and Rec” and SNL alum Taran Killam) are given little to do and rarely add to the comedy.

At the end of the day, “Night School” is not terrible. It’s got plenty of funny bits and it’s always fun to see talented comedians at work, but it certainly isn’t anything special. Even with two comedy stars, “Night School” still can’t get a passing grade.