Believe it or not, it’s been more than eight months since we’ve seen the ubiquitous Kevin Hart up on the big screen. And those hoping he would build on the success of last December’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (and put dreck like The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard, and Ride Along 2 behind him) will be sorely disappointed with the dull and lifeless Night School. As unfunny as detention, and seemingly just as long, the attempted comedy is the latest from Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee, who is working from the ultimate screenplay-by-committee. No fewer than six people, including Hart and also Nicholas Stoller, the “brains” behind 2016’s god-awful Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, can be blamed for this ho-hum mess.
Hart stars as Teddy Walker, a lovable loser (does he ever play any other character?) who sells barbecue grills for a living. When the store owner tells Teddy that he’s transferring the business to Teddy upon retirement, Teddy celebrates by accidentally blowing up the place. Since he’s a high school dropout, Teddy’s prospects for landing on his feet are non-existent until his buddy Marvin (Ben Schwartz) offers him a post in his financial firm, on the condition that Teddy get his GED.
Enter Tiffany Haddish as Carrie, the no-nonsense night school teacher at Teddy’s almost-alma mater. As much as Teddy tries to wiggle out of doing any actual work, Carrie is even more determined to lay down the law and keep Teddy and the motley crew of his fellow students in line. Also providing a foil for Teddy is Stewart (Taran Killam), the vengeful school principal who Teddy bullied during their high school days together.
There’s plenty of potential at play here, to be sure, and the cast (which also includes Al Madrigal, Rob Riggle, and Mary Lynn Rajskub) is ripe for the comedy pickings, if only they had been given some actual comedy to work with. The script is rife with eyeroll-worthy groaners and jokes whose lame punchlines can be seen from miles away. (Roomba and Zumba are confused at one point. Crickets.) And even the inevitable redemption sequence, as Teddy realizes the error of his ways and turns into a good boy, lands with such a thud that you’re left with no other feeling than relief at the fact that this mirthless, color-by-numbers crud must finally be near its end (…though it does take a good, long while. Night School clocks in at an interminable 111 minutes.)
There’s no doubting that Hart is a very funny man, and when given good material (Jumanji and Central Intelligence, for example), he has the potential for a home run. And Haddish’s star is also worth every bit of the rise it’s seen over the past two years. But even their collective talents aren’t enough to make Night School worth anything more than a flush down the drain in the janitor’s closet.