The premise of Night School, an overlong, under-funny comedy starring Kevin Hart, is that a 35-year-old high school dropout named Teddy Walker has to get his GED in order to get a job. That scenario, while not inherently funny, allows for innumerable complications that could make it funny, but none of them are employed by the screenplay (which is credited to Hart and five other guys). Instead, we get an exhausting series of pointless contrivances: Teddy hides his actions from his fiancée, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), who doesn’t know he dropped out of high school, doesn’t know he doesn’t currently have a job, and doesn’t know he’s been living beyond his means to impress her; Stewart (Taran Killam), the uptight principal at the school where Teddy takes night courses, is an old rival of Teddy’s from their own high school days and wants to sabotage his GED efforts for vaguely defined reasons.
The real conflict is that Teddy has dyslexia and a host of other learning disabilities that were never diagnosed, hence his frustration and eventual dropping out when he was a teen. It’s his GED instructor, Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), who figures this out (though we spotted it in the first scene of the movie, when Teddy took a test and the words and numbers started jumping around the page), and her solution is to use “alternative teaching methods” to help Teddy learn, e.g., kickboxing. Does that make sense? No, but it lets Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish horse around on gym mats while the GED students cheer them on.
Ah yes, the other students. There are six of them, including one who’s in prison but attends class via Skype. Some of these are played by recognizable comic actors (Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rob Riggle), but none of them are given enough humorous material to work with. They ought to have been one-joke ancillary characters — kooky classmates for our frantic protagonist — but instead each one gets an “arc,” dragging the runtime out further. Meanwhile, Teddy convinces the entire class (ALL OF THEM) to help him break into the principal’s office and steal the midterm rather than study for it, an inane tangent that kills another 20 minutes while offering minimal laughs.
Hart is characteristically sweaty and high-pitched, but he flounders with the material, which seeks to make him and the others Real People without doing the work to make their personalities and motivations more than one-dimensional. Haddish, normally an energetic presence, is wasted in a subdued role. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, The Best Man), rather than keep things tight and streamlined, lets the whole thing sprawl lazily. Six writers, an experienced director, a cast of funny people, and this is what they came up with? Believe me, I know what a group project looks like when it was slapped together the night before the due date.