Kevin Hart is a testament to what it takes to achieve stardom in Hollywood. It is a long, hard road. While the comedian is quickly approaching his second decade in the movie industry, his status as a household name only solidified in the last three years. Coming off a number of popular ensemble pieces like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Central Intelligence, Night School is still somewhat of a new thing for Hart, placing the talented comedian in a starring, top-billed role. He’s number one on the call sheet. So, what do you need to know before venturing out to see Night School?
Night School follows Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart). While everything has been going his way, life catches up to the high school dropout when he accidentally blows up the grill store where he was gainfully employed. Forced to start over from scratch, he discovers he can only continue the lifestyle to which he’s accustomed if he attends night school to earn his GED. Tiffany Haddish, Taran Killam and Rob Riggle co-star. Malcom D. Lee directs the film from a script by Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg. That’s a lot of writers.
Night School‘s most evident problem is the sheer number of writers attached to this script. Think of it this way, the amount of screenwriters is (often!) inversely proportional to the quality of the work. With so many creative voices are competing for space, maintaining a cohesive consistency is a challenge. As such, Night School is all over the place. This ranges from the type of humor to the character construction and even the pacing. The script struggles to find its footing throughout the movie.
As the film begins, the script does craft an interesting relationship and gender dynamic between Teddy and his fiancée Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke). Audiences see her professional powers as a talented interior designer. This girl has her life together. In fact, early in the story there’s a moment where Teddy admits to his friend (Ben Schwartz) that he’s been living above his means to support her. This plot-line and the resulting insecurity within Teddy is fascinating to see on-screen. He sees and openly admits how ridiculously awesome she is, and he wants to be able to treat her as well as she deserves. The story hints at an exploration of masculinity, gender roles in relationships, and even feminism. However, this quickly disappears as the movie gets going.
As the second act develops, Lisa is largely a non-issue and before long, she’s reduced to little more Teddy’s supportive girlfriend. She waits at home, sending him provocative pictures… of course she wants sex. Despite all of her support (and their adorable chemistry) Teddy is lying to her for 95 percent of the film. She’s given a redeeming moment as she breaks up with him upon learning the truth. However, as everything comes to a neat conclusion she shows up to take him back with little to no reason to do so. The Hollywood happy ending must be maintained at all costs.
This lack of any meaningful development is a consistency throughout the entire film. Tiffany Haddish gives a solid performance injecting some interesting depth into Kerry the night school teacher. Lee worked with Haddish on Girl’s Trip, the comedian’s star making role, so it is disappointing to see how underutilized she is. The character inspiration seems to be the age old Stand and Deliver/Dead Poets Society inspirational teacher archetype when through a comedic lens. However, she quickly becomes merely a wise-cracking moral compass to show Teddy the err of his ways. Night School also supremely under-utilizes the talented Mary Lynn Rajksub, once again sketching out a fascinating character, but not bothering to give her anything to do.
By and large, Night School is a Kevin Hart vehicle. Fans of the actor should check this one out (and will likely enjoy it). However, his character is ultimately the weak link in the chain. Teddy is not likable. Even as the narrative concludes, he’s hardly apologetic for everything he’s done. He’s just a hustler! That’s what he does.
Combining Hart’s portrayal with the performances of Riggle and Killam, Night School is yet another comedic ode to the man child. This is an age old comedic theme. However, with changing gender and sexual mores being brought in by the explosion of #MeToo, it begins to feel increasingly outdated. With talented comedians like Haddish and Rajksub attached, it is particularly insulting as women in man child comedy typically find themselves saddled as stereotypical second fiddles, disapproving moral figures and love interests (all of which are evident in this film). All the bones of interesting character development are there, but the movie fails everyone else in its desire to make a straight Kevin Hart vehicle.
Ultimately, fans of the comedian will get a kick out of this movie. All the hallmarks of his star persona are there, but it’s frustrating to see this become a largely generic comedy when there’s more interesting material here. This movie could have been so much better.
Night School opens in theaters around the country this weekend.