Review: Kevin Hart aces ‘Night School’

September 28, 2018

How many laughs you might find in Night School depends on where you find Kevin Harts comedy talents.

If you feel that his signature moves of falling down at every opportunity and screeching his dialogue like an alley cat are his A-game, youll find less to love. But if you have wanted him to follow in the footsteps of Chris Rock, tone down the gimmicks and try on some semi-relatable characters, your hope has arrived.

As Teddy, he plays a hardworking, successful if often phony salesman facing a crisis. He cant move up professionally and keep his love life intact unless he passes the test for a GED. So he signs up for night school.

For an overstuffed but surprisingly effective hour and a half, Hart blusters, screws up humiliatingly and slowly learns important life lessons. He serves up his usual mix of inspired lunacy and charisma, plus a new level of recognizable humanity. This may be his most likable screen persona yet.

Directed by well-practiced comedy director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip), the movie is full of juicy line-readings and sick humor. Written by Hart and four others, the script is all over the place, but its a well-planned, interesting mess, often hilarious and as vulgar as possible within the limits of its PG-13 rating. Its not a thing to rave over, but nothing youd be ashamed about having sat through, either.

We meet Teddy in a flashback as a high school student with plenty of friends and a lot of superficial confidence, but unlike his brainiac sister not many accomplishments in earning grades. In fact, he shortened his named from Theodore because that was a challenge to spell.

As he runs his bewildered eyes over his copy of the state achievement test, the letters and numbers float across the screen out of order and impossible for him to decipher. Embarrassed, he drops the exam and walks out, yelling at everyone who remains, Youre all going to end up in stupid student debt.

When we cut to the present, the adult Teddy seems to have the world on a string. He drives a new Porsche, has a beautiful girlfriend who is out of his league (and a full head taller) and is still buddy-buddy with an old school pal who runs a major Atlanta investment firm.

Its from that friend, who is Teddys unofficial financial adviser, that we learn hes carrying a lot more debt than he should. Teddy shows him the huge diamond engagement ring hes about to give to his girl, and the storys key conflict is established.

As amiable as he is, our protagonist is a phony heading for a downfall. Teddys self-inflicted collapse hits like an impeccably set up punch line. His proposal to his girlfriend falls flat. His bouncing back into the good graces of his sweetheart, friends, family and society will take him through a lot of homework and multiple awkward lessons in humility.

Night School is funny and a bit offensive without being mean-spirited in the slightest. It gives Teddy several foes, but no real enemies. His biggest adversary is his own ego. Hart does a graceful balancing act with Teddy, making his character someone to root for and laugh at simultaneously. Almost everyone feels like an impostor to some degree, and Harts balance of insecurity and braggadocio nails that sense of vulnerability. There are similar extra levels of interest in the ensemble cast, giving the essentially predictable characters qualities that you dont see coming.

Kudos also go to Tiffany Haddish in a well-written role as Teddys strict but fair new teacher, Carrie. Shes a commanding taskmaster ready to whip her belt at Teddy literally but supportive and a trifle optimistic about his abilities, as well. Attractive but not objectified, shes the kind of sharp-witted woman youd like to have a beer with.

Haddish is fully Harts co-star. From the moment the duos characters bump into each other, they offer a master class in improv wisecracking. Given Haddishs status as a fast-rising comedy star, thats no shocker. Whats unforeseen is her skill at knockabout physical humor. She beats some sense into Hart in several skirmishes at the school gyms martial arts octagon, entertaining riffs on Harts usual slapstick gags.

The other members of the ensemble are solid as granite. Keith David cq shines in the starry supporting cast as Teddys disapproving father, and Taran Killam cq pockets every scene as the no-nonsense principal Teddy teased in the old days. Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Rob Riggle all cq stand out as his fellow night-school misfits, each a well-rounded, humanized oddball.

While Night School is not likely to join anybodys list of favorite comedies ever, its probably going to sell an awful lot of popcorn.

Colin Covert 612-673-7186


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