Give Me In-School Suspension over ‘Night School’

When a film is about as enjoyable as taking a standardized test, you know you’re in trouble…

“Night School” stars Kevin Hart as a high school dropout who must return to complete his GED after losing his job.  Tiffany Haddish plays his teacher while Rob Riggle, Taran Killam, Romany Malco, Keith David and Loretta Devine also star. Malcom D. Lee directs.

Last we saw Malcom D. Lee, Tiffany Haddish and producer Will Packer teaming up was with “Girls Trip,”a film I very much enjoyed and that put Haddish on the map. Lee typically makes quality-enough films, including “The Best Man” and “Soul Men,” while Packer has made a career of producing financially successful films targeted at African-Americans, including Hart’s “Ride Along” films and this year’s “Breaking In.” You would think the trio teaming up, along with Kevin Hart who can be entertaining in bursts, would be a recipe for success but unfortunately the end result feels like detention.

One of the signs your film is (typically) in trouble is when there are more than two or three screenwriters, especially if they’re broken up with an “&” symbol, meaning it was different writing teams making a pass at the same script. “Night School” has six writers, including Hart and “Neighbors” director Nicholas Stoller, and that fact is clear early on because this is a scattershot affair. When the actors aren’t improvising and riffing (which is seemingly most of the time) the script jumps around to different styles of jokes, some dark and others juvenile, and it just creates an awkward pace.

The editing doesn’t do the film any favors either, as scenes got on for far too long, shots stay on characters far after the punchline and there is very little rhyme or reason to the structure. The cinematography by Greg Gardiner, who shoots many of Lee’s films and was able to give “Girls Trip” some flare, is bland (as with most Hart-Packer productions), with much of the film taking place in standard, uninspired classrooms or kitchens.

Haddish tries her best and is clearly the best part of the film but a lot of her spaghetti-at-the-wall improvs don’t land, or are so awkwardly stitched into the scene that you get no beat between lines. Hart is doing his Kevin Hart thing and at this point you’re either on that train or off it, and I just wish he would stick with doing things where he is the straight-man or is challenged just a little bit by a director (he’s so fun in “Jumanji!”). Taran Killam has a few amusing moments as the nerd-turned-principle but he largely feels like a missed opportunity of a role.

“Night School” shows flashes in the very, very early stages of being a possible satire of high school films but then it quickly falls into just a cookie-cutter comedy that is as disposable as it is boring. I started to get anxious towards the end of the film because it simply refused to end, or even build to any true conclusion, and there is really no reason you would ever need to check this one out.

Critic’s Grade: D

Universal Pictures