The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Night School

To some degree, Night School falls victim to expectations. The movie teams Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish -- two of the funniest people working onscreen today. Both have finely-honed comedic voices, both possess a unique type of energy that's fascinating to watch. Putting them together promises non-stop hilarity. It's a promise Night School can't quite fulfill, despite some undeniably funny moments.

Hart plays Teddy Walker, the top salesman at a store that sells barbecue grills. He lives way beyond his means in order to impress his girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke). After a freak accident wipes out the store, Teddy is unable to land a sufficiently-lucrative new job, due to his lack of a high school diploma. He decides to attend night school to get his GED, finding himself thrown in with a ragtag group of fellow students. The teacher, Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), recognizes that Teddy isn't taking education seriously, so she tries to motivate him. Taran Killam co-stars as Stewart, a former high school nemesis of Teddy's who is now the principal. He's none too interested in seeing his old classmate succeed.

In some ways, Night School is a throwback to '80s comedies like Back to School and Summer School. All of them feature characters receiving non-traditional educational experiences and trying to beat whatever personal demons have kept them from reaching the honor roll. Even if the formula isn't new, it's effective. Watching Teddy get reacquainted with the school experience, and seeing how Carrie helps him get to the root of his learning problems, provides at least a modicum of entertainment.

Here's where the film gets a little strange. In the big ways, Night School is never quite as funny as you'd expect. Teacher Tiffany Haddish educating unmotivated student Kevin Hart should be wall-to-wall hilarity. The biggest attempts at earning laughs tend to fall flat. For instance, a scene in which Teddy and his classmates break into the school to steal a copy of the test never generates the level of comic chaos that it should. Classroom sequences also fail to capitalize on the possibilities of an admitted B.S. artist trying to scam his way through the GED process.

Night School gets more interesting when it indulges in random weirdness, like outbursts from Teddy's fellow student Jaylen (Romany Malco), who is an unabashed conspiracy theorist. Or the bits in which mousy housewife Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub) obsesses over the sexual power of the female rear end. Teddy's job at a Christian fried chicken restaurant, which sits right next to a strip club, also generates some amusement. (Take note of the flavors when Teddy stands in front of the soda machine.) None of these things are front-and-center. They reside on Night School's fringes, and they're the best parts.

Hart and Haddish are always winning. The material often lets them down, but director Malcolm D. Lee's decision to allow his stars to ad lib mitigates that somewhat. The clearly off-the-cuff lines are almost always better than the scripted ones (which, incidentally, come courtesy of six credited screenwriters). It's kind of regrettable that Haddish isn't in the movie as much as you'd expect. Carrie is definitely a supporting character and not a co-lead, as the marketing suggests.

Night School is far from terrible, yet it's also far from what it could have been. The movie is fine as lightweight entertainment that lets you take your mind off your worries for two hours. Pairing comedic forces like Hart and Haddish should bring more than that, though. Their names on a poster gears you up to roll on the floor with laughter, not intermittently chuckle.

( 1/2 out of four)

Night School is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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