Hart, Had­dish elicit few laughs in this class­room

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

Am I ask­ing too much of “Night School”? It’s no big thing, this new movie star­ring Kevin Hart and Tif­fany Had­dish, and no­body’s ex­pect­ing a for­mula-, game- or life-changer. You just don’t want to leave feel­ing short­changed. Right? A few cheap laughs. Is that so wrong? Di­rec­tor Mal­colm D. Lee’s com­mod­ity squeaks by, barely, with solid comic as­sis­tance from the de­light­ful Ro­many Malco (serenely pan­icked, ev­ery sec­ond) and Mary Lynn Ra­jskub (“blessed,” she keeps say­ing, even though her char­ac­ter’s do­mes­tic life is pure hell). Along with Rob Rig­gle, Al Madri­gal and Anne Win­ters, they’re wel­come com­pany as the Hart char­ac­ter’s fel­low night school stu­dents, prep­ping for the GED exam un­der the tough-love guid­ance of the over­worked At­lanta ed­u­ca­tor por­trayed by Had­dish. There’s an orange-suited adult stu­dent Skyp­ing in, too, a pris­oner (Fat Joe) who watches his back ev­ery sec­ond while work­ing through chal­leng­ing math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tions re­motely.

Hart’s pro­duc­tion com­pany helped put to­gether “Night School,” and it’s Hart’s show by de­sign, be­gin­ning with the 2001-set pro­logue. High school-age Teddy (Hart) copes with un­di­ag­nosed learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and an ar­ray of dys­lexia-re­lated dif­fi­cul­ties. School is tough enough with­out be­ing ri­tu­ally hu­mil­i­ated and called out as “stupid” by Teddy’s neme­sis, Ste­wart.

Seven­teen years later, Teddy makes a de­cent liv­ing as a bar­be­cue grill sales whiz, though he’s des­per­ately in debt try­ing to im­press his up­scale MPAA rat­ing: PG-13 (for crude and sex­ual con­tent through­out, lan­guage, some drug ref­er­ences and vi­o­lence) Run­ning time: 1:51 Opens: Fri­day girl­friend, Lisa (Me­ga­lyn Echikun­woke). A few set­backs later, dis­sem­bling and dodg­ing the truth left and right, Teddy’s em­ployed by a fast-food fran­chise called Chris­tian Chicken (a deft poke at Chick-fil-A). Nights, he’s a re­luc­tant stu­dent in the night school GED prep course, at the school whose prin­ci­pal (Taran Kil­lam, overindulged and un­der­a­mus­ing) is Teddy’s high school tor­men­tor.

Six cred­ited screen­writ­ers worked on this script, at var­i­ous stages, which trans­lates to 2.5 good jokes per man. “Night School” works best when it ditches the plot con­trivances al­to­gether and lets Had­dish and Hart go at it with the trash talk. (At one point, they sim­ply trade an­i­mal snarls, when words won’t suf­fice.)

The rest of the time the movie re­lies on clumsy, poorly staged may­hem, with a glar­ing lack of fi­nesse in its phys­i­cal com­edy. In or­der to help Teddy fo­cus on his learn­ing, Had­dish’s Car­rie puts him in an MMAring and punches him in the face, over and over. The movie has no idea how to work that bit, while also treat­ing Teddy’s learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties se­ri­ously.

Di­rec­tor Lee and Had­dish found low-comic gold in their re­cent smash, “Girls Trip”; I doubt any­one in­volved with “Night School” be­lieves they’ve come up with some­thing half as lively this time.

Judg­ing from its weirdly fre­quent over­dubbed punch­lines, the film ap­pears to have been shot as an R-rated re­lease, then toned down for a PG-13. (Even so, the vis­ual gags tend to­ward vomit and pu­bic hair.) Hart re­mains an au­di­ence-pleaser, though I con­fess I found him a lit­tle wear­ing here; Had­dish, a fresher pres­ence, can do only so much with a role that’s more func­tion than form. The ac­tors aren’t the prob­lem with “Night School”; the ma­te­rial is. It’ll nonethe­less likely prove a hit be­cause of who’s in it, head­lin­ers and sup­port­ing ringers alike. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.

UNI­VER­SAL PICTURES

A high school dropout (Kevin Hart) preps for his GED with the help of a teacher (Tif­fany Had­dish) in “Night School.”

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