One of the things I find painful to watch in movies is stories where everything goes wrong for the main character. Think Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents or Will Friedle in The Trojan War. Kevin Hart’s situation in Night School is not as consistently dire or desperate, but the story is still set off by a series of stupid events that just make you cringe for the poor guy while sighing in exasperation.
My introduction to Kevin Hart as a leading man was in Central Intelligence, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hart established a fantastic repartee with Dwayne Johnson, the jokes landed, and the comedy delivered. That is not the case in Night School. Individually Hart’s fellow night school students have an amusing note or two, but together their chemistry deserves a big, old F.
I barely cracked a smile throughout the entire movie. Two aspects in particular completely wiped away my barely-there smile. Firstly, watching a bunch of 30-something actors playing themselves in high school. Hart already did this in Central Intelligence, which only worked because a different actor played the younger version of Johnson’s character. It doesn’t work in Night School, mostly because the flashback scenes are so unnecessary; and it just makes Hart come off as the kind of actor who’s not willing to share a role with a younger actor.
Secondly, were the supporting characters’ backstories. It feels like the circumstances that drive these characters to attend night school are just used as a crutch to create comedy. Not only does it not work, it also robs the characters of agency and the audience of empathy, inadvertently mocking and condescending the circumstances that drive some people to night school.
Tiffany Haddish, as the night school teacher, is the exception in this unfunny ensemble. Any laughs and heart that the movie has, come from her. There’s a lot of rah-rah around Haddish at the moment. I’ve not watched Girls Trip, but judging by Night School she’s a good actress, yet not one who’s provided the full opportunity to flourish and show off her talents. Hart, bizarrely, is more watchable in the moments when he’s not trying to be funny. Hopefully the future holds better scripts for both actors.