Only a fool would say that Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish aren’t hilarious. But only a dumbass would argue that their new comedy, Night School, isn’t the worst kind of lazy, laughless, paycheck-begging twaddle. What is it with stars who think that their responsibility to audiences stops at showing up?
Director Malcolm D. Lee, who showed Haddish in all her raunchy glory in Girls Trip, leaves her in the lurch with this PG-13 softball that’’ nowhere near as foul-mouthed nasty as it needs to be. Has no one seen what these two comic firebrands do on stage? It took six writers to come up with a plot and dialogue that you know the two stars could have improvised better on the spot. Wait, Hart himself is one of the six writers … so we’d better take that back.
Hart plays Teddy Walker, a BBQ grill salesman who’s keeping secrets from his rich fiancée, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke). He’s just been fired and he can’t get a job because — wait for it — he’s a high-school dropout. Walker might be able to snag a spot in finance with his best friend (Ben Schwartz), but for that he needs a GED and fast. So our man secretly enrolls at a night-school class taught by Haddish’s Carrie Carter. This woman takes no shit, though she’s a pussycat compared to Stuart (Taran Killam), the school principal who Teddy used to rag on back in the day when they were classmates. The Principal wants revenge. Also, Stuart is a white dude who likes talking black, so you know he’s going down.
There have been lamer hooks on which to hang a plot. You just figure Hart and Haddish will ignore the script and seize control. No such luck. After a promising start when Carrie calls Tiny Teddy a “leprechaun” and the two go at it in a verbal free-for-all, the movie starts piling on characters. On the first night of class, Carrie calls on the new classmates to introduce themselves: There’s Mary Lynn Rajskub as the overworked mom who insists her life is “blessed”: Romany Malco as some sort of mystic; Rob Riggle as the ultimate dork; Al Madrigal as a Mexican immigrant with dreams of a career as a dental hygienist; and Fat Joe as a jailed convict who Skypes into class. And so it goes, as Hart and Haddish disappear — if they snuck off to moonlight other gigs it’s hard to blame them. That leaves the supporting cast to pad a movie that is already groaning from its comic deadweight.
Hart grabs a few giggles when his character takes as job a joint called Christian Chicken, and Haddish adds a dab of physical comedy when she beats up Teddy in a training session. But hardly anything in this movie makes sense. Night School reaches desperation level when Lee stages a break-in scene so the students can steal a midterm exam … which wouldn’t help a damn since the GED is the only test that counts. And just when you think the filmmakers couldn’t stoop lower, they do, adding on unearned positive messages about learning abilities and why don’t we just get along. No matter how much money this clunker makes, this is a movie that never should have happened. Save your pity for audiences who deserve better.