Night School **1/2

There are some funny moments, but it’s only good for a lark – nothing special here, which is okay because it’s not trying to be.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Kevin Hart is annoying. This is not to mean he isn’t funny – he certainly is, at times. Rather, he is annoying in an irksome manner: His pipsqueak screen persona, coupled with his occasionally high-pitched exasperation, can be grating. You want to smack him just as much as you laugh at or with him. But you do laugh, and that’s the key.

He plays another in his long line of immature man boys in “Night School,” in which his Teddy is a high school dropout attending night school in an effort to earn his G.E.D. First and foremost, bravo to Teddy for going. Secondly, bravo to Teddy for having a beautiful girlfriend (Megalyn Echikunwoke) whom he acknowledges is out of his league, and wanting to better himself to be the man he feels she deserves. Certainly his intentions are pure, even if the lies he tells Lisa to cover up what he’s doing are misguided.

The premise is standard, and director Malcolm D. Lee’s (“Girls Trip”) execution of the humor in the opening half hour is poor. Jokes are too absurd to be funny (Teddy makes a scene while taking the SATs, blows up his workplace, pulls a ruse in a fancy restaurant to avoid the bill, etc.), which is likely the byproduct of having six(!) credited writers on the script. These moments are the Hart-centric, and a slog to sit through.

Then Teddy starts attending night school and the film becomes more of an ensemble piece, and everyone – especially Hart – shines. He’s joined in school by homemaker mom Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), defiant teenager Mila (Annie Winters), dumb as nails Big Mac (Rob Riggle), aspiring singer Luis (Al Madrigal), a convict (Jacob Batalon) who attends via Skype, and a guy who believes robots are taking over the world played by Romany Malco. Their caring but hard-nosed teacher is Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), and the antagonist is Stewart (Taran Killam), a former high school classmate of Teddy’s who’s now a principal with an unhealthy affection for Morgan Freeman’s “Lean On Me.”

All the aforementioned cast members have moments to shine, and for the most part succeed. Attempting to steal the mid-term exam is humorous, as is Rajskub’s Theresa trying to flirt for the first time in 20 years. Why Haddish’s Carrie had to beat the crap out of Teddy to help him learn remains unclear, but darn if it didn’t add some welcome physical humor. Malco has some timely one-liners, and Riggle’s character is so stupid it’s endearing.

One issue, though, is the timing of the dialog after big laughs. Usually filmmakers know when laughs are coming and allow the movie to breathe for a few seconds afterward before someone speaks. This enables audiences to enjoy the moment and not miss anything. Inexplicably, Lee repeatedly has dialog quickly follow a big laugh, and it’s dialog that’s impossible to hear with the crowd still roaring. It’s a good problem to have, but it shouldn’t be a problem at all.

“Night School” is ultimately a harmless amusement, an otherwise forgettable date night pic good for a laugh or two and little more.

Did you know?
Haddish recently won an Emmy for hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

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