The new Kevin Hart-Tiffany Haddish comedy, “Night School,” is carefully calculated to create laughs, and it succeeds. Laughs are plentiful in the film. But, they are also cheap and unmemorable. More than anything else, “Night School” feels like an amusing, but entirely forgettable, sloppily put together, comedy.
This is a movie where the two stars are first seen on screen together yelling at one another while each is stopped at a traffic light. Hart’s Teddy thinks that Haddish’s Carrie is talking too loudly on her phone and Carrie doesn’t really care what Teddy thinks. The two don’t know each other, but get into a spat. It’s moderately amusing and one instantly wonders how exactly the characters will relate to one another once they meet again later in the film; how this moment will play into that relationship.
It is soon after that Teddy discovers that Carrie is going to be his night school teacher and that moment of recognition? It doesn’t exist.
It constantly feels as though the Malcolm D. Lee directed film is in it solely for the immediate, easy, jokes. As long as there are jokes, it simply doesn’t care about having consistent characters. The script by Kevin Hart & Harry Ratchford & Joey Wells & Matthew Kellard and Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg never has a good idea who either Teddy or Carrie might actually be besides chuckle delivery systems.
Teddy, a high school dropout, is the greatest barbecue salesman of all time. He is the repeated employee of the month. He can sell anything to anyone at the barbecue store. He is so good and so well loved by his boss, that the boss decides he’s going to give the place to Teddy rather than his own son. Teddy is, we are shown, a smooth-talking machine.
Except for when he isn’t, which is pretty much whenever the script needs him not to be.
Teddy is a guy who constantly falls flat on his face talking to other people. He can’t make a good impression on Carrie or the guy who repossess his car or his girlfriend’s friend or a waiter at a restaurant. When Teddy opens his mouth, he immediately inserts his foot into it.
These are two distinct, separate, people. They have the same name, they are both played by Kevin Hart, and both make the audience laugh, but they are not the same character.
When it comes time for Teddy to straighten up and fly right in class after causing trouble for much of the time, the moment feels unearned. He apologizes to Carrie for his foolishness, but there isn’t a great reason or logic to it. It is just a thing that happens so the story can continue.
As for Carrie, while Haddish may be the female lead, make no mistake, this is Hart’s film. These two are not setup as equal characters in any regard. We know little to nothing about Carrie, except that she takes teaching seriously (except for when she doesn’t because there may be a joke in it or an action that is setup by it), but that’s about it. We know as much about Teddy’s best friend, Marvin (Ben Schwartz), or girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), as we do Carrie.
For that matter, we know as much about the principal of the school and former classmate of Teddy, Stewart (Taran Killam), as Carrie. Stewart goes around the school with a baseball bat hitting things and threatening people, “Lean on Me” style. It is funny. It is also funny when he gets squeamish witnessing someone else get threatened and hit. But, it doesn’t seem like the same character.
The rest of the night school class of misfits—played by Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Joseph Cartegna, and Anne Winters—are consistent in their characters, but only because each is one-note. Again, each is a funny note, but they’re not fully realized individuals.
From top to bottom this is an exceptionally talented, truly funny cast and one which could have made “Night School” a comedy for the ages. But, it isn’t that.
Will you laugh if you go see “Night School?” Undoubtedly. It’s funny, it really is. It just isn’t very good.
photo credit: Universal Studios