The Critic’s Corner
October 8-14, 2018
By David Laprad
‘Night School’ fails to pass
The comedy of Kevin Hart has been lost on me. I know the man’s movies and stand-up comedy performances have made him rich and popular, but I don’t think they’re funny.
As I purchased a ticket to “Night School,” Hart’s new comedy, I tried to keep my skepticism in check. “Maybe he’ll actually make me laugh this time,” I told myself.
But nope. The Kevin Hart the masses have seen in over 30 movies is the same Kevin Hart who appears in “Night School.” This might be reassuring to those who can’t get enough of his shtick, but it makes the film a chore for anyone else to endure.
Maybe you’re thinking I just don’t get Hart’s brand of humor. Fair enough. Then tell me what’s funny about the scene in “Night School” in which his character, Teddy, plants several pubic hairs on a piece of cheesecake to avoid being stuck with a nearly $900 bill at a fancy restaurant.
Or maybe you can help me see the humor in the scene in which Teddy cries under his breath to fool a repo man into thinking there’s a baby in the backseat of his open convertible. Just how dumb does someone have to be to fall for that?
Then there’s the scene in which a man graphically throws up in another man’s face after being grossed out by a bad fall. This bit didn’t directly involve Hart, but since he was one of six writers who contributed material to the film, I’m giving him the credit for it.
I did chuckle at the ongoing joke about Christian Chicken, a fast food restaurant where Hart’s character, Teddy, stands curbside in a feathered suit trying to lure motorists to the restaurant. “Honk once if you love chicken; honk twice if you love the Lord,” he shouts while spinning a sign. The parody of Chick-fil-A is amusing.
I also liked the line, “If I stand in the right spot, I can smell fried chicken and cocoa butter, and for me, that’s a win.” (There’s a tanning booth next to Christian Chicken.) It’s not funny, but it provides insight into how Teddy is feeling about himself after failing a test.
But every time “Night School” exits the parking lot of Christian Chicken, it leaves the laughs behind. In their place, audiences get broad, hackneyed comedy and a “plot” as predictable as a traffic light and about as much fun to watch.
Teddy is a high school dropout who’s spent several years racking up salesman of the month awards at a barbecue grill store. Clearly, he has a knack for winning people over, as is also evidenced by the successful young woman he’s dating and wants to marry.
The only problem is she believes a lie as Teddy struggles to maintain the illusion that he, too, is well off. When he accidentally burns down the store and loses his job, a friend offers him work as a financial advisor. There’s just one catch – Teddy must earn a high school diploma first. (I remind you that it took six people to come up with this story.)
So, off to night school Teddy goes. Once there, he struggles to learn the material. Thankfully, his teacher discovers that her new student has several learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dyscalculia, a math-related learning disability.
I like that “Night School” doesn’t portray Teddy as stupid but as someone suffering from actual learning disabilities. I also like that the film shows how someone with these disabilities can have attributes that allow them to do well at other things and contribute to society. At the same time, there are barriers in life, and it takes attentive, dedicated people like Teddy’s teacher to identify the problem and guide them to help.
I’m not sure the teacher’s solution – pummeling Teddy in an Ultimate Fighting Champion octagon until he remembers the square root of 81 – would be appropriate, but this was one of those broad strokes you just give a movie.
So, “Night School” has a sweet heart but no head for comedy.
The same could be true of Hart. Although his clueless, spastic young man routine is getting old, he comes across as genuine and thoughtful in interviews. He values hard work, loyalty and social consciousness, and sees comedy as a means of engaging audiences rather than alienating them.
These attributes are admirable but do not sell tickets, so here’s hoping Hart grows as a performer and actually becomes funny before his fans begin to lose interest. I doubt it will take many more half-baked efforts like “Night School” before they get there.
Skip it. PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some drug references and violence.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.