The modest primary goal of the cast and crew of Night School is to be funny, a mission at which they’re largely successful and only rarely abandon for sappy self-empowerment messages.
Leading the charge is director Malcolm D. Lee, who reunites with his Girls Trip scene-stealer Tiffany Haddish. The power duo bring Kevin Hart along for the ride as Teddy, a high school dropout propelled into the titular course in order to get his GED and a job that keeps his girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke, Damsels in Distress) thinking he’s rolling in dough and ignorant of his educational shortcomings.
Apparently attempting to set the record for most writers in a comedy, the film’s six screenplay credits include Hart and Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors), the combination of which sometimes yields a “too many cooks” vibe to the material as certain lesser gags play out longer than necessary.
When mouthy, overworked teacher Carrie (Haddish) is allowed to cut loose, Night School earns its biggest laughs, especially when Teddy and his amusing fellow classmates ricochet jokes off one another.
Belittled mom Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub, TV’s 24), troubled high schooler Mila (Anne Winters, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why), “woke” conspiracy theorist Jaylen (Romany Malco, Baby Mama), aspiring singer Luis (Al Madrigal, TV’s About a Boy), dim-witted former mover Mackenzie (Rob Riggle, TV’s The Daily Show), and Skyped-in inmate Bobby (rapper Fat Joe) have terrific rapport and provide a steady stream of ridiculous lines.
Teddy’s humbling employment at a Christian fried chicken restaurant and convincing flashbacks to 2001 with him basically wearing a Big Boi Halloween costume likewise provide quality yuks, though the one-note authoritarian antics of his high school antagonist and now principal Stewart (Taran Killam, SNL) consistently flop — with the exception of a Lean On Me poster hanging on the wall behind his desk.
The handling of Teddy’s various learning disabilities also never quite come together and the story itself ranks among the year’s most predictable, but a few pleasant narrative surprises pop up in the final act.
But really, the main point of Night School is to watch Haddish, Hart and comedians whose last names don’t start with the letter H have a contagious good time, and in that regard the movie gets the job done.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Universal Pictures)