By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — The purpose of director Malcolm D. Lee’s fitfully funny comedy “Night School” (Universal) is to allow its stars, Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, to trade barbs. A few of their exchanges work.
But there’s only so far you can get on snappy mutual sass, and when attention shifts to other matters, laughs and interest both lag.
While not as sordid as some supposedly humorous movies, moreover, the film, which Hart co-wrote with five others, does bowl the occasional gutter ball. It also abounds in vulgar talk.
Hart plays Teddy Walker, a high school dropout who has nonetheless achieved success as a barbecue salesman. When a disaster destroys his workplace, however, and his employer decides to retire rather than rebuild, Teddy needs a new start. His loyal friend Marvin (Ben Schwartz) offers him a job at his financial firm but only on condition that Teddy pass the GED exam.
Enter Haddish as Carrie, Teddy’s feisty teacher, and cue the putdowns. Add in a break-up-to-make-up subplot built around the fact that Teddy has never told his fiancee, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a flourishing businesswoman herself, that he doesn’t have a diploma, and must now conceal his studies from her. Can you spot the ersatz emotions and the message about openness and communication waiting in the wings?
Teddy’s classmates are a predictably eccentric lot: There’s dim-bulb Mackenzie (Rob Riggle), conspiracy theorist Jaylen (Romany Malco), aspiring singer Luis (Al Madrigal), emotionally repressed housewife Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), party girl and busted meth user Mila (Anne Winters) and, joining the class via Skype, prison inmate Bobby (Joseph Cartegna).
Another story line involves Teddy’s old high school adversary, Stewart (Taran Killam) who, unfortunately for Teddy, is now their alma mater’s principal. Though his initial bid to bar Teddy from attending night school there fails, he busies himself trying to make mischief for his rival.
Along with the importance of honesty, the picture’s obligatory serious moments highlight the value of persistence, albeit in a feeble, tacked-on way. Given that an early scene finds living-beyond-his-means Teddy pulling out his own crotch hairs and sprinkling them on his food so he can get out of paying the bill at an expensive restaurants, though, moviegoers may not be in the mood for life lessons.
Rather than cough up the price of admission to “Night School,” viewers would be well advised to play hooky instead.
The film contains much sexual and some scatological humor, partial nudity, about a dozen profanities, several milder oaths, pervasive crude and crass language and mature references, including to homosexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.