Tag Archives: kevin hart

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

‘Captain Underpants’ About as Fun as a Wedgie

Captain_Underpants_The_First_Epic_Movie_posterWell, they can’t all be “The Boss Baby.”


“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is an adaptation of the children’s book series of the same name. The film stars Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch as two elementary schoolers who hypnotize their mean principle (Ed Helms) into becoming a superhero. Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele and Kristen Schaal also star as David Soren directs.


I was actually a big fan of this series growing up, so with it finally getting a film it completes the trifecta of my top three favorite children books getting big screen adaptions (the other two being “Harry Potter” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events”). And maybe it’s because this series is aimed at six-year-olds and I’m, you know, not six, but the long overdue film version of “Captain Underpants” just isn’t that fun or inventive and commits the biggest movie sin possible: it’s boring.

This only cost $38 million to produce as part of an experiment by DreamWorks to see if they could create a cheap but successful animated film (may as well start with a brand name item to guarantee at least some business). To put that into perspective, most animated films cost around $125 million to make, and companies like Illumination take flack for only making their films for $75 million and getting lazy with some of the animations.


The lower budget here is felt, as a lot of the motions and scenes are flat and uncreative. Characters flail around and don’t really interact with their environment because that would cost money. This looks like a straight-to-DVD film from 2003, which is when this film should have been released; I don’t think too many kids even know about Captain Underpants nowadays. There are a few humorous moments where the film implements real stock footage of a tiger or sock puppets, but when the best scenes of your animated film are the ones that aren’t animated, that’s a red flag.


The voice acting here is uninspired and a lot of the time just downright awkward. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch have seemingly no chemistry despite supposedly being best friends, and I get that the two likely recorded their lines in different booths on different days but look at a film like “Boss Baby;” the dynamic between Alec Baldwin and child actor Miles Bakshi felt genuine and they came across as real characters. I’m not sure if it is Nicholas Stroller’s script or Hart and Middleditch just not caring but their performances are hardly up-to-par with both other animated films and their own previous works.


I know I’m not the demographic for this film, I get that, but I have never subscribed to the “it’s a kids film so it’s OK that it’s stupid” because that is just an excuse for filmmakers to make bad movies with minimum effort just to make money. The good animated films, and even the second-tier ones, have jokes for both adults and kids and don’t just make a character run around and scream or fart when they can’t think of a clever way to end a scene.


There were kids in my theater laughing here or there, but even they didn’t seem to be overly enjoying “Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie.” I got a brief sense of nostalgia watching one of my favorite childhood heroes finally get his place on the big screen, but about 40 minutes in I felt my eyes getting heavy and my head slowly dropping, and at the same time my friend then leaned over to me and said “I’d so rather be in ‘Boss Baby’.” Truest words have never been spoken.


Critics Rating: 3/10

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

‘Central Intelligence’ Funny but Tad Underwhelming

CentralIntelligencePosterTrying to decide if this movie is “Twins 2” or “Ride Along 3”…


“Central Intelligence” stars Dwayne Johnson as a former high school outcast who grows up to join the CIA and gets in contact with the coolest kid from his class (Kevin Hart) to help him on a mission. Amy Ryan also stars as Rawson Marshall Thurber directs and co-writes.


This was on my list of 2016’s most anticipated. I have jumped on The Rock’s bandwagon (the dude is just so damn charming), I enjoyed director Thurber’s first two efforts (“Dodgeball” and “We’re the Millers”) and even though I have only like him in small doses, I continue to hold out hope Kevin Hart has a great movie in him. This may not be that great movie, but overall it is one of Hart’s better ones.


If you’ve seen the trailers for this then you know exactly what you’re getting into. Kevin Hart will do his shrieking thing, Johnson will smile and wink while flexing his muscles and they’ll stroll through a simple buddy cop plot. The film makes no (intentional) efforts to throw any wrenches into the formula so depending on how forgiving a filmgoer you are, this could be a fun summer time at the movies.


Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart have solid chemistry together, which is good because if they hadn’t this thing would have collapsed on top of itself. Hart actually tones it down and doesn’t go on many high pitched rants as normal, and instead plays the straight man of the duo. It was a nice change of pace which made his trademark outbursts even more enjoyable.


As good as he is interacting with Hart, Johnson is more of a mixed bag. His character is a big man-child and when we first meet his character I thought it was just a charade; but nope, he talks like he is 12 for the entire film. It works in some scenes, and you can somewhat empathize with him because of how he was bullied in high school, but it teetered on annoying for most of the film.


Like I said earlier, I enjoy Thurber’s other two films. Both “Dodgeball” and “Millers” are gleefully stupid, but they have so many laughs and run at such a quick pace that you overlook the lack of intelligence (CENTRAL intelligence! *clears throat*) because they’re so damn enjoyable. This time around, as many solid belly chuckles as there are (and the film has its fair share), there aren’t enough big laughs to make you forgive the formulaic plot or lazy handling of the narrative. The middle of the film drags and the whole thing feels longer than 107 minutes.


The best way I can summarize “Central Intelligence” is like this: Kevin Hart’s character goes from prom king and voted “most likely to succeed” to working as an accountant. While he admits it isn’t a bad job, he feels he isn’t reaching his potential. That it “Central Intelligence;” it is a fine enough film that does its job, but given the talent assembled it could have been great.


Critics Rating: 6/10

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

‘Get Hard’ a Waste of Two Funnymen

Get_Hard_film_posterAnd so the lackluster 2015 continues.

“Get Hard” stars Will Ferrell as a millionaire who is found guilty of fraud and bound for San Quentin prison, so he hires his car washer (Kevin Hart) to prep him for life behind bars. Etan Cohen makes his directorial debut.

Kevin Hart has never really been known for making great films. One could argue that his last film, “The Wedding Ringer”, which came out this past January, is the high point of his career but even that was pretty standard cinema. Still, when I saw he was going to pair up with funnyman Will Ferrell, I had high hopes. And that was my mistake.

The premise for “Get Hard” is by itself pretty funny, if not simplistic. A rich, pampered man is sentenced to a maximum security prison and hires a minority to teach him how to survive simply because he assumes he had been to prison; done with the right people it could’ve worked. But instead the film is overlong and stretched thin, which makes sense since two of the film’s three screenwriters write for the sketch show “Key & Peele”, and they aren’t sure how to creative a constantly flowing narrative longer than four minutes.

Many of the jokes in “Get Hard” are just either just so simple or can be seen coming from a mile away. Obviously race and rape jokes are to be expected whenever jail is the subject of a plot and some of Ferrell’s one-liners on the subjects work, but all too often I just found myself rolling my eyes.

Speaking of Ferrell, I’m really confused as to why he continues to make R-rated films. It can be argued that all of his worst films are rated R (“The Campaign”, “Semi-Pro”, and even “Step Brothers”), and for no real reason other for him to be able to say the f-bomb.

Rapper T.I. has the best lines in the movie as the head of a gang that Hart recruits to get Ferrell protected on the inside, and Hart gives the film a few shots of energy, but by the final act of the movie you really just want it to be over with.

I laughed a couple times during “Get Hard”, including once hysterically, but with the talent involved this should have resulted in a better product. This is one of Ferrell’s worst films, and come December I doubt I’ll even remember this thing exists.

If you’re looking for a breezy springtime comedy then unfortunately this is not going to fill your void for a comedy requires, well, comedy. And while “Get Hard” is good for a few chuckles, it isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as it could, and should, have been.

Critics Rating: 4/10



Chemistry Elevates ‘Wedding Ringer’

TheWeddingRingerPoster            This may mark the first time in a long time I enjoyed a January movie.

“The Wedding Ringer” stars Josh God as a socially awkward groom who hires the owner of a company that provides best men to those in need (Kevin Hart). Jeremy Garelick co-writes and directs.

I’m not the biggest Kevin Hart fan in the world. It’s not that I don’t find him funny, just that his stand-up is pretty one-note and his movies often rely on him yelling and running around (see: his role as a best man in last year’s “Think Like A Man Too”). So it was nice to see Hart a little toned down and sincere in “The Wedding Ringer”, and it aids the film being light and likeable.

Set in Los Angeles, the film has a sense of warmth about it, just like how by the end of the film, Gad maybe begins to warm Hart’s heart (so many plays on words in one sentence). The plot itself isn’t anything revolutionary, but the idea of hiring a best man for your wedding is pretty creative. The moment I saw the trailer and then once every character is introduced, I knew exactly how the film is going to end, but the main goal of the movie was to provide laughs, not M. Night Shyamalan twists.

For the most part, the jokes in “Ringer” work. There is some low-brow humor and some recycled material (“the fat guy broke the table! LOL!”), but there are also some inspired one-liners or mini-monologues from Hart. When everything is coming to a head, the film loses its sense of reality (if it ever had any) so by that point it relies on the comedy and chemistry.

It’s not hysterical, and I won’t remember it in a few months, but in-the-moment I enjoyed myself and at no point did I look at the time. Hart really sells his role and makes you buy the fact that if you needed to rent a best man for your wedding, he’s the guy you would want to fill those shoes (tailor pun?).

Director Garelick seems to know where to put the camera to get the most out a scene, whether it is a tight face shot to capture a reaction or a wide view to see all the chaos unfolding.

“The Wedding Ringer” a breezy comedy that is a more than enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. Kevin Hart gives probably his most honest performance (whatever that’s worth) and he has some nice comedic moments of bonding with Josh Gad. There will be better comedies in 2015, but there will also be worse comedies (Adam Sandler has his yearly romp due out in July); this one just lands in the middle.

Because I don’t think the review would be complete without it, allow me to conclude with a holy matrimony analogy: “The Wedding Ringer” is like the wedding of the person you knew in college and didn’t attend expecting much and it is a standard ceremony, but thanks to some whacky moments it turns out to be a pretty good time.

Critics Rating: 6/10



Rock’s New Comedy Won’t Make Your ‘Top Five’

Top_Five_posterThere is a point at the beginning of “Top Five” when Chris Rock’s character says, “I don’t feel like doing funny movies anymore. I don’t feel funny”. Apparently he accomplished his goal because the movie he’s in isn’t all that funny.

Written, directed, and starring Chris Rock, “Top Five” tells the tale of Andre Allen (Rock), a former comedian who wants to be taken seriously as an actor, all while being shadowed by a journalist (Rosario Dawson) and dealing with the impending wedding with his reality star wife (Gabrielle Union).

Chris Rock is a great comedian, there’s no denying that, and even if he isn’t the greatest actor in the world, he still has produced some funny products the past decade. “Top Five” seems like it should work on paper, with Rock playing almost a version of himself, but it just doesn’t and for a comedy it isn’t that funny.

The cast looks impressive with the likes of Kevin Hart, Tracey Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer all popping up on the poster, but in reality this the Rock and Dawson show, with celebrities stopping by to cameo in one scene. Ironically it is the three scenes with Hart, Morgan and Cedric that each bring a little life and the biggest laughs to the screen, but the moment their characters exit you instantly miss them.

There are some tiny bits of inspired writing from Rock about how maybe we’re too tough on reality stars for having no real talent or how we expect too much from A-list celebrities, but those moments get lost watching scenes that go on for too long or are ruined by an awkwardly out-of-place crude joke.

I kept sitting through “Top Five” waiting and wanting it to pick up momentum and be funny, the kind of funny I know Chris Rock can bring, but it never does, and that is the film’s biggest problem: it is a comedy that just isn’t funny. The film never fully knows what kind of film it wants to be.

It wants to be taken seriously and address a man’s alcoholism? It throws is a montage with Cedric the Entertainer and two prostitutes. It wants to be filled with potty humor? It suddenly flips and makes some characters start a serious argument. Films like “Funny People” perfectly walk the lines of potty humor, drama and genuine laughs, but “Top Five” can’t.

The best part of “Top Five” is when Chris Rock’s character is shown doing standup, which makes sense because these are Rock’s roots. But a few celebrity cameos and a couple smart satirical moments can’t save a film that drags on and then suddenly just ends. I really, really wanted to like “Top Five” more than I did, if not for my sake then for Rock’s, but I could not.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Grudge Match’ Uninspired and Unfunny


            It’s Jake La Motta versus Balboa. Raging Bull versus Rocky. De Niro versus Stallone. What could go wrong? Well if you guessed “most everything because those two men are now 70 years old” then congratulations, you got it! “Grudge Match” stars De Niro and Stallone as two former boxers who are brought out of retirement to have one final tie-breaking fight. Kevin Hart and Kim Basinger also star and Peter Segal directs.

This is not the first time Hollywood has paired old actors together; it’s been done this year, in fact, with “Last Vegas”, and that too starred De Niro. Only difference is that film was funny, and De Niro actually looked like he wanted to be there.

I found it really hard to find any joy in “Grudge Match”. De Niro and Stallone both clearly don’t care about the movie and slump through their roles with very little enthusiasm. Not that the script would have done them any favors if that had chosen to care.

Of the two guys who wrote the movie, Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, only Kelleher has any experience writing a feature film; and that experience comes in the form of the 1996 kid’s film “First Kid”. The script is just riddled with clichés and a lot of unfunny lines that are just handed to the audience with no effort at all. Even the hilarious Kevin Hart can’t make much of his dialogue pop, as much as he may have tried.

The saving grace for the film is the end fight. Director Segal has proven he is capable of shooting sports and action scenes with “Get Smart” and “The Longest Yard”. The climax is everything you would expect from a feel-good holiday movie, but it was one of the few effective aspects of the movie.

I really wanted to like this movie. I went in expecting “Last Vegas” but with boxing gloves instead of poker chips, and walked out feeling empty inside. When I could understand what Stallone was actually saying I didn’t care, and when De Niro gave yet another mailed in performance you’re more insulted than anything. The film was slated to be released in January, a month notorious for Hollywood’s dumping ground of bad movies, but was pushed up to a Christmas release.

Middle aged people may get some sort of nostalgic rush from “Grudge Match” but aside from a few chuckles and the end fight, which ends very abruptly, the film has nothing to offer. It is kind of like when a fight is really hyped up and publicized, and then ends in a one round KO. Only instead of ending quickly, “Grudge Match” just draws on and on and on…

Critics Rating: 4/10