Night School offers some low-grade laughs

by Shane Dillon
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I have no idea what the American GED is – an educational achievement somewhat comparable to the Leaving Cert, it seems – and after making it through Night School (Cert 12A, 111 mins), I’m still not much the wiser.

So, let’s frame things this way: Teddy (Kevin Hart) wants to go to night school to complete his, err, Leaving Cert (okay, okay – his GED) after finding his life adrift, not least after losing his job.

If he can only complete his night school Leaving studies (stick with me, folks) he’ll be able to get his life back on track, which he needs to, fast, as Teddy needs a new job and to somehow keep one step ahead of the girlfriend he’s stringing along with his non-existant ‘wealth’.

And so he enrolls with a bunch of misfits and would-be learners at the eponymous night school, which is run by someone who’s prove all too happy to be his nemesis.

Only the tough – and I do mean tough – support of a teacher, Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) with some somewhat eccentric teaching practices can get Teddy and the other class misfits through their studies towards getting that elusive Leavi– err, GED.

However, somewhere along the way the would-be students find their motivations and focus drifting, leading to high-jinks galore…

At least on paper, that is, as the film veers all over the place – something to do with the large amount of writers accredited to this project, I suspect, turning what could have been a tight premise into a broad church of hit-and-miss gags.

Comedy is a tricky thing to nail, proving one of the most divisive genres out there.
Just look at how hugely successful the generally awful yet critic-proof Adam Sandler has been, for example (and yet, to be fair, Sandler often impresses in any rare serious role he undertakes).

Here in Night School, Hart is playing largely to the strengths that have made him such a comedic star in the States, although much less tangibly so in the rest of the world.

In Teddy, Hart’s playing a character that’d be pretty interchangeable with many of his other films, with some old-skool mugging, pratfalls, cartoonish set-ups and more giving him plenty to work with in the role.

The end result is that the film feels like a fairly typical assembly-line comedy; the kind of fine but forgettable fare that gets trotted out a dozen times a year – this could pop out in any month, any year, with little impact.

It’s true that Hart provides some reliable laughs, and even though I’m not his biggest fan he does an okay job here, with a couple – just a couple – of sequences playing to his strengths (unsurprisingly, as Hart was also one of the screenwriters).

He’s often overshadowed in the film by rising star Haddish (previously seen to great effect in Girls Trip), with her role as the tough Teach giving her plenty to work with.
She often steals the show here; that’s no mean feat, considering some of the supporting cast’s best efforts with their own roles.

Ultimately, Night School doesn’t have anything new to add to the back-to-school mini genre, which was once a reliable cinema staple but has largely evaporated.
Still, it’s passable fare with a few chuckles, though not many, and shows that when it comes to his particular shtick, Hart is still pretty much in a class of his own.

Verdict: 4/10

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