Malcolm D. Lee
Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg
Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Keith David, Taran Killam, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Anne Winters, Romany Malco, Ben Schwartz, Rob Riggle
PG – 13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Perhaps there’s something modestly subversive in creating a film about a man who couldn’t finish high school because of his learning disabilities who finds himself trapped in a world where a lack of education leaves him with few options. Night School is a lot of things, but accidentally insightful might be its biggest benefit.
Kevin Hart plays a High School dropout who has gotten by on his charm and charisma. After a freakish turn of events, Hart’s Teddy Walker must go back to night school and get his GED or risk his out-of-his-league girlfriend (Megalyn Echikunwoke) finding out that he’s little more than an uneducated liar. Tiffany Haddish, hot off her near-Oscar-nominated success in 2017’s Girls Trip takes on the role of the no-nonsense night school teacher who cares deeply about her students’ success, but takes no shit from any of them.
Along for the journey are Taran Killam as Hart’s High School nemesis and now principal of the school where he’s attending night courses; Keith David as Hart’s aggressive and psychologically abusive father; Ben Schwartz as Hart’s best friend from High School to present; and fellow classmates Mary Lynn Rajskub, Anne Winters, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, and Jacob Batalon.
The cast is aces, landing most of their comic beats with Haddish and Hart both working well together. Yet, neither can stop the scene stealing of 24 veteran Rajskub as a stay-at-home mother trying to break out of her tedious cycle while her clueless husband causes her unlimited grief.
The originality in Nigh School comes largely from its humor and its finale, which tries a different take on the commonplace happy ending one expects from this type of film. The rest of the film, however, is a paint-by-numbers back-to-school comedy that thankfully has a roster of talented comedians to bolster its otherwise lackluster construction.
While sitting in the theater, it’s easy to be consumed with laughter by the material provided, but once you step foot outside, it’s impossible to think back on the movie and find much in the way of inventiveness. The storyline is heavily recycled, appearing in countless similar films, and even the humor exists elsewhere even if not in this particular configuration. Night School is a film that features plenty of enjoyment, but all of it is empty and ultimately unimpressive.
The idea of anyone going back to night school to compete in a culture where increasingly higher levels of education are required to advance is a compelling one. Here, the seriousness of the theme isn’t given enough traction or the credence to be exceptionally notable. There are also a handful of marks the film hits in suggesting that higher education, or even just the completion of high school, is a momentous and necessary part of everyone’s life. It also tries hard to normalize and heighten awareness of learning disabilities. These various themes certainly give merit to the concept that the film has a noble purpose.
Unfortunately, in the end, Night School is mostly a film to enjoy with its heartfelt and frequently uproarious laughs. There’s no reason not to take it seriously and if properly prefaced as part of a lecture on learning disabilities or educational advancement, it could have an impact on impressionable younger and older minds, but ultimately most audiences aren’t going to come out of this with a newfound respect for education. However, if even one mind is affected, it will have served a purpose that no one is certain it intended.
November 15, 2018