Film

'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)

Other

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.

3


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

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.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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