by Austin Casey | Staff Writer
A well-off but financially unstable thirty-something wants to impress his new fiancé after losing his cushy job by snagging an impressive new one but can’t do so due to one problem: he never graduated high school. He now must secretly overcome his learning problems and attend night school with a group of wacky misfits and a tough teacher to get his GED, regain his pride and marry his girl.
It’s a solid comedy premise and the casting of comedy stars Kevin Hart (as Teddy, the dropout) and Tiffany Haddish (as Carrie, the night school teacher) as the leads make “Night School” sound like pure gold. While the idea seems like a slam-dunk, the finished product manages to end up just OK. The stretched-out run-time renders the quality laugh moments hiding muffled within scenes that have already worn out their welcome, the romantic portion of the story and many of the jokes feel predictable or overused, and the two leads don’t shine as brightly as the side characters do.
“Night School” undeniably has moments that work. The problem is that most of these moments happen near the end of scenes that get old long before getting to the punchline. It’s tough, because you need enough story holding up your movie to string jokes on, but this movie feels like the balance is tilted too far toward plot machinations than witty dialogue or hilarious scenarios.
The strength of the side characters is both a positive and a negative. They are the standouts of the movie, especially Stewart, the self-righteous principal as well as technology-paranoid Jaylen and oblivious “Big Mac” from the night class. The character that made me laugh out loud most was Bobby, a convict who participates in the night class through Skype from prison, who we occasionally see fight off a prison riot or read a bedtime story to children.
The problem with those standouts is that they get more laugh lines than the people we spend most of our time with, Carrie and Teddy. Teddy seems like the same excitable and overconfident character Kevin Hart always plays (but this time with dyslexia and other learning disabilities) and Carrie is a bit tough to figure out. While from the trailers I was expecting the movie to balance screen time between the leads, Teddy is the clear protagonist and the final product heavily favors him. This imbalance doesn’t really give Haddish a chance to shine or develop her character. When I left the theater, I didn’t actually know how to describe Carrie (other than as a generally good person), as certain reveals with her don’t happen until the very end. The comedy would have been more effective if Carrie had been a ruthless antagonist throughout to Teddy, but instead their relationship is more supportive and mellow. Neither of them just get as many funny or memorable moments as I would have hoped.
One major problem with “Night School” is visible from a simple Google search: it is 111 minutes long and easily could have been 95. Scenes like one where the class sneaks into the school to steal a test or the introductions on the first day of night class are over 15 minutes long without anywhere near enough jokes to justify that length in a comedy. A scene where Teddy applies for a job at “Christian Chicken” (a Chick-Fil-A stand-in) should have been hilarious, instead it was stagnant. It should have been generally cut shorter to pick up the pace a bit and let the best stuff have an improved flow.
Going for an R rating would have far better served this movie than the PG-13 it ended up with. Obviously that’s more of a financial risk for the studio, but it feels appropriate for literally all of these characters to be using harsh language and it almost feels awkward that they don’t. Bad language isn’t funny stranded without context (to me at least), but it could have been another tool used to build jokes and improve characters. To the movie’s credit though, it was limited to only a few moments of immature Adam Sandler-esque toilet humor and stuck to humor through real dialogue.
Overall, this movie is fine, maybe even a little fun, but forgettable. The fact that there are six credited writers on this (the usual is around two) gives the impression that the creative forces behind this were not exactly sure what the movie was supposed to be. Some of the best moments are in the trailer, which is no fault of the filmmakers, but is still a bummer. I would be surprised to hear anyone say they hate this movie, but also would be surprised to hear anyone say they loved it. I was looking forward to “Night School,” so it ended up disappointing me— but I can’t call it bad or give it a failing grade. If you desperately need a comedy, go see it. However, I would recommend saving your movie money for the barrage of big movies coming in the next three weeks. 6/10