There seems to exist a template that most modern comedies are built from. Once, you’re able to recognize the pattern, it’s hard to ignore, and although “Night School” has some hilarious moments, it’s dragged down by its lame by-the-numbers formula.
Teddy (Kevin Hart) dramatically dropped out of High School in the midst of the Georgia SAT testing. Frustrated by the incomprehensible questions, he stormed out, stating he would be more successful than any of his classmates. At first glance, it seems he may have accomplished exactly what he set out to do. He has a fancy car, a beautiful, successful girlfriend, and a job. But it’s all a facade, built upon a foundation of lies. Soon, enough of it comes crashing down that he’s forced to get his GED, in order to keep the facade alive, and not lose his girlfriend. This setup not only paints Teddy as a rather unlikeable protagonist but also runs a bit too long. It’s an awful lot of backstory for a character who we don’t really want to root for.
Once Teddy enrolls and meets the teacher (Tiffany Haddish) and other students ( Mary Lynn Rajskub, Anne Winters, Romany Malco, Rob Riggle, Al Madrigal, and Fat Joe) the film finally comes alive. Each of these over-the-top characters injects their own fresh humor which quickly overshadows Hart’s. The problem is Hart’s character is actively trying to be funny, while the other characters are essentially just being themselves. This issue seems to haunt many standup-turned-actors. Instead of performing to a live audience, they channel their performance to the other characters on screen, essentially making the theatre audience a third wheel to the action.
The story plods along, following the well-worn ruts of the plot-template. We get such gems as the Almost-Caught-By-Girlfriend-Misunderstanding, the Group-Bonds-Over-Felony-Crime-Outing, Serious-Marital-Problem-Solved-Via-Bad-Advice, the Actually-Caught-By-Girlfriend-Misunderstanding, and my favorite, Brand-New-Concerned-Friends-Standing-Around-Very-Personal-Conversation-Looking-Concerned-For-Support scene. Each of these tentpoles sequences is scored with discount music that likely came from the WB’s sitcom editing room floor.
But! When the movie isn’t being painfully predictable, or eye-rolling bad, it has some extremely funny moments! It’s an odd experience to suddenly be jarred from the excessive mediocrity by an unexpected jolt of humor. Tiffany Haddish shoulders a lot of the weight in this area with an unwavering energy and presence that keeps the movie alive and kicking. “Night School” is far from a bad comedy, but with SIX credited writers, and a screentime approaching two hours long, it should have felt more like recess and less like detention.