Hart plays Teddy, a high school drop out with undiagnosed learning disabilities. He has cruised through life living from pay-check to pay-check and using his salesman charm to sell himself as successful. When he loses his job as a result of a botched marriage proposal at his workplace he struggles to find another title that would sustain his lifestyle. And so with no choice but to return to school to earn his diploma, he enrols in night course and joins an abnormal class of middle age students. And there lies your premise. There's little more to it, and the rest of the film is mostly predictable, contrived and customary... good.
There isn't a snowflake's chance in hell of NIGHT SCHOOL winning awards, dominating the box office or being revered. Heck, you'll probably have trouble tracking down a single glowing review of it. And so it is with a smidgen of pride (and frustration towards my peers) that I admit that it is very funny and entirely enjoyable. I wont abuse the English language by using emotive words like “great”, “fantastic” or any other exaggerations, but I will – with all honesty – tell you that it tickled my funny bone and sustained a consistent level of fun.
I attended a full screening alongside many fellow film critics and entertainment writers. And far be it for me to throw any of them under the bus, I will just express disappointment in many of their attitudes (without the added name-and-shame). The atmosphere throughout the screening was lighthearted and jovial, with barely a moment lacking laughter. I gave the room an occasional scan, making mental notes of people I knew who were enjoying themselves. It was mostly laughs as far as I could see, and yet I anticipate scathing reviews and merciless take-downs from their media platforms. To them I say C'mon! Admit you liked it. Admit that it was funny. To hell with your reputations... how about a truthful response?
Director Malcolm D Lee (Girls Trip, The Best Man, Barbershop: The Next Cut) reunites with Kevin Hart and consciously throws back to a brand of comedy from the 80s and 90s. With hints of John Hughes at play, as well as Todd Phillips and a smidgen of Lorne Michaels, the references extend to the more dramatic high school movies like Lean on Me and Dangerous Minds. And with a strong ensemble including Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Al Madrigal the result is a nostalgic and occasionally heartwarming lampoon that belongs elsewhere in time.
As indicated earlier, I am not a fan of Kevin Hart. I typically find his comedy to be incessantly mundane and lame. His career has been built around being short, and there isn't a movie of his that hasn't used his lack of height as its crux. However, despite NIGHT SCHOOL playing off the same motif, his schtick has found a place. The self-depreciating height jokes are mostly funny here, and the ongoing insults are as immature as they are clever. Jokes are made at everyone's expense but they are never mean-spirited.
Justifiably spending money to see NIGHT SCHOOL at the cinema is entirely your choice to make, but I will argue that there will not be a better way to see it. Waiting for an home-entertainment release will deny you the pleasure of laughing with an audience, and perhaps the movie's impact will be diminished without that communal experience. Of course you can take what I say with a grain of salt, but if you choose to take advice from other critics then just know that I saw many of them laughing... a lot!