'Night School' Is Simply Remedial Comedy

Tiffany Haddish as Carrie in Night School (IMDB)

Yes, Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart are too good for this by-the-numbers mess, but that's modern comedy: Throw some stars out there and see what they can do.

Night School
Malcolm D. Lee

Universal Pictures

28 Sept 2018 (US)


Movie magic isn't reliable. It's an unpredictable concoction of many parts outside of pretty much anybody's control. That's particularly true with comedies, which studios tend to under- or over-promote. They're forever flatfooted. The shock when a modestly-budgeted comedy takes off is so palpable that usually bad decisions are made. If something works once, why shouldn't it again? Just ask the suit at Universal who greenlit The Hangover III before The Hangover II even hit theaters.

It's easy to imagine something like that happening with Night School. Last summer, Malcolm D. Lee's beautifully dirty Girls Tripmade a mint by sending four women tearing through New Orleans with a few simple rules. The crucial one: Whenever Tiffany Haddish's character wound up for another deftly trash-mouthed tirade, everyone needed to simply step back and let her fly. Within a week, Haddish was crowned funniest woman in America and there was serious talk of her getting an Oscar nomination. Reuniting her with Lee and adding Kevin Hart, the only comic in America who can tour arenas and has a movie career based mostly on his willingness to play his short stature off tall co-stars, makes a perfect kind of sense.

Unless the result is Night School. In the '80s, this kind of under-imagined and over-emoted project would have paired some over-the-hill comic with a few fresh-faced youngsters and blipped wanly into theaters before settling into a comfortable half-life circulating through the pay cable channels. But these days, it's a bigger deal, with two of Hollywood's most bankable stars mugging for all they're worth in the posters in the hope of ginning up a decent opening weekend. Which it probably will, because most of the TV ads feature Haddish punching Hart in the face. Because education.

Kevin Hart as Teddy in Night School (IMDB)

The big idea of this story—which has a full six writing credits appended to it—has Hart playing Teddy, a high school dropout barbecue grill salesman who is hiding his lack of education or high-paying job from his stylishly out-of-his-league fiancé Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke). One very foreseeable catastrophe later, Teddy's forced to finally get his GED. But in secret, because Lisa can't know his shameful truth and because as far back as Shakespeare we've known that comedy in large part requires people lying and deceiving for damn fool reasons.

A somewhat reserved Haddish plays Carrie, instructor at Teddy's night school. She spends a good part of her screen time reading various sections of the riot act with icy determination to Teddy or Stewart (Taran Killam, further perfecting his stone-cold creep routine), Teddy's childhood nemesis and current school principal. She dominates effortlessly, but in a limited and underwritten character that doesn't give her the full range of her comedic abilities.

In many cases, the stars hand the movie right over to the gaggle of comics playing Teddy's classmates. It's a mixed crew of end-of-their-tether adult scholars, ranging from Rob Riggle's too-dumb-to-breathe dad to Mary Lynn Rajskub's overwhelmed homemaker ("What is 'woke'?"). In many comedies this crew of happy-to-help sidekicks—they throw themselves all too easily into the test-stealing scheme Teddy suggests about five minutes after getting to class—would provide a solid base of laughs for the stars to build from. But here, they're mostly reduced to antic clowning, excepting Romany Malco's slyly underplayed take on a conspiracy nut.

Hart pulls from his full arsenal of tricks, particularly the rubber-faced mugging and that high nasal wail of pain and distress. It all works fine enough, until the story forces him to put on a serious look and face the self-delusions and learning disabilities holding him back: "I got learning herpes?" That line received among the biggest laughs of the night from the audience this writer saw Night School with. The other biggest laugh probably came during the test-theft caper when one night-school student vomits from the ceiling into the open mouth of another. Nothing was audible for a good ten to 20 seconds afterwards.

If Night School were a better movie, that might have been a problem.







Raashan Ahmad Talks With PopMatters About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.