‘Night School’: Kevin Hart, A+ cast do their best with a C-minus script
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At one point in the live-action cartoon of a comedy “Night School,” a middle-aged man unwisely attempts to jump from the roof of a high school to the roof of an elementary school, about 15 feet away.
SPOILER ALERT! He doesn’t make it.
The man plummets a good 20 or 30 feet, by the looks of things. He bangs into a metal railing before landing with a thud on concrete steps.
His arm is so grotesquely broken, a sickened rooftop observer throws up — and yes, the vomit lands on the face of the injured guy.
Hey. Either you laugh at that sort of thing or you don’t — but get this: The next time we see the guy who crash-landed, he’s perfectly fine. No cast, no sling for his arm, no bruises of any kind.
Wile E. Coyote had a slower recovery time.
Earlier in the story, someone is catapulted through the air by a propane gas explosion. He lands on the hood of his car and shatters the windshield and is temporarily dazed — but is otherwise OK.
I could provide more examples, but you get the idea. On occasion this Kevin Hart vehicle dabbles in real-world situations, but for the most part it’s a feature-length sitcom that doesn’t take full advantage of the wonderfully talented cast and settles for being … OK.
And very, very broad.
Once again, Hart is playing a likable everyman who gets into all sorts of trouble, most of it of his own doing. His Teddy Walker is a fast-talking ball of energy who’s always hustling, whether he’s racking up another sale at the home barbecue grill store where he’s been the Employee of the Month for pretty much all the months, zipping around in his Porsche or maxing out his credit cards in an effort to impress his beautiful and sweet and successful interior designer girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke).
When things blow up and Teddy winds up out of work, his best friend Marvin (the always funny Ben Schwartz) says he can get Teddy a job as a financial analyst at his firm — but only if Teddy, a high school dropout, gets his GED.
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Admirable as that accomplishment would be, I’m not sure it would open the door for Teddy to find employment as a financial analyst, but off we go to night school.
Of course, Teddy lies to his lady, telling her he already has that high-paying job because he doesn’t want her to know he never graduated high school and he’s spending his days working at a chicken joint and his nights prepping for the GED exam.
Oh, Kevin Hart Characters in the Movies, when will you ever learn you shouldn’t pretend to be someone you’re not?
Teddy’s classmates include a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse — wait, that was “The Breakfast Club.” This is more like the Late-Night Diner Club of Misfit Adults.
We have Rob Riggle as a dopey dad; Mary Lynn Rajskub as an overwhelmed mother of three, Al Madrigal as an immigrant who dreams of becoming a dental hygienist, Anne Winters as a teenage hipster from a wealthy family who was kicked out of school for drugs, Romany Malco as a conspiracy theorist convinced robots are out to get him, and rapper-actor Fat Joe as an inmate who joins the class from prison via Skype.
And at the head of the class, Tiffany Haddish as Carrie, who teaches the kids at high school during the day and has added night school duties to augment her meager paycheck.
That’s a great group of actors with terrific timing, capable of producing laughs even when the dialogue isn’t all that sharp and the setups aren’t all that original. (When a movie resorts to the obligatory dance number to an infectious pop tune from the past, with the characters taking turns and showing their stuff, we are in comedy comfort-food territory.)
To its credit, “Night School” avoids a few clichés we’ve come to expect from a movie such as this, especially when it comes to certain key female characters. And it retains a bit of a cynical edge throughout, as when Haddish’s Carrie, a caring and dedicated teacher, nods off during a talented student’s “We can do anything if we put our minds to it!” speech. But there’s just not enough material here to carry the day.
The screenplay for this film is attributed to a half-dozen writers, including Hart. That’s hardly unique — but it means there were a lot of cooks in the comedy kitchen, and it’s no surprise the finished product actually feels just a little bit half-baked.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matt Kellard, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg. Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence). Running time: 111 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.