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'Night School' review: Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish pairing gets a passing grade

Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Taran Killam star

Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Taran Killam star in "Night School."   Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

PLOT A high-school dropout joins a class of misfits trying to pass the GED exam.

CAST Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Al Madrigal

RATED PG-13 (language, rude humor, sexuality)

LENGTH 1:51

BOTTOM LINE The Haddish-Hart chemistry isn’t totally combustible, but this good-natured back-to-school comedy has its moments.

Ordinarily, Malcolm D. Lee’s “Night School,” starring Kevin Hart as a high-school dropout studying for his GED, would be billed as a Kevin Hart movie. The role of Teddy Walker, a natural-born hustler and system gamer, is perfect for Hart, who excels at playing fast-talking charmers. So who’s that woman sharing the "Night School" posters with one of America’s biggest box-office draws?

That, of course, is Tiffany Haddish, whose loud, rowdy, dirty-and-sweet performance in “Girls Trip” made her a sensation last year. Hart and Haddish, together on screen — how great is that?

Well, more like good. “Night School,” written by Hart and others (including Nicholas Stoller, of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), is a sturdy enough back-to-school comedy, with several fun characters and funny moments. But the Hart-Haddish combo — the movie’s main selling point — doesn’t quite deliver.

“Night School” begins in earnest when Teddy loses his job as a barbecue salesman (he accidentally blew up the store) and realizes he needs his diploma-equivalent for gainful employment. He enrolls in night classes at his almost-alma mater, Piedmont High, where his old nemesis, snotty Stuart (Taran Killam), is now the iron-fisted principal. Worse, the GED teacher, Carrie (Haddish), is not one for cutting slack. In this learn-and-grow narrative, Teddy will find there’s no alternative to hard work.

It’s Carrie, not Haddish, who feels like a slight letdown. The role is all tough love and no nonsense, more “Dangerous Minds” than “Animal House.” Carrie has her moments, as when she literally beats a math lesson into Teddy using mixed martial arts. She’s very nearly a dramatic character, though, not the hurricane-force personality we fell in love with in “Girls Trip.”

Fortunately, the supporting cast saves the day. Among the brighter lights are Rob Riggle as the astoundingly dumb Big Mack and Al Madrigal as the sarcastic Mexican immigrant Luis; also good are Mary Lynn Rajskub as Theresa, a doormat housewife, and Anne Winters as Mila, the tuned-out Ally Sheedy of this grown-up Breakfast Club. Some of the best moments come from Romany Malco as the conspiracy theorist Jaylen and rapper Fat Joe as Bobby, a convict who Skypes in from prison.

One thing “Night School” has going for it is a positive message: This is a movie about trying, failing and persevering. Though they didn’t quite ace this test together, Hart and Haddish ought to give it another go.

He’s all Hart

Like Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart is an undeniably talented comedian-actor who, truth be told, is often better than the movies he chooses. (Case in point: “Ride Along.”) Here are four of Hart’s best:

THINK LIKE A MAN (2012) Hart’s breakout movie is still one of his best, a multiculti battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Produced by Will Packer, whose credits include “Night School” and “Girls Trip.”

THE WEDDING RINGER (2015) As he heads to the altar, a nerdy guy with no friends (Josh Gad) hires a professional best man (Hart). Not a great film, but it has a sweet spirit and a nice chemistry between the leads.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (2016) In this action-comedy, Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson play against type as — respectively — a former cool kid turned suburban drone and a one-time nerd turned superspy. Lots of fun.

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017) Hart and The Rock re-team, along with Jack Black and Karen Gillan, as teens who enter a video game and become unlikely avatars of themselves. “Jumanji” was a crowd-pleaser and a smash hit; the sequel is slated for next year.

 
— RAFER GUZMÁN

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