Two of Hollywood’s biggest class clowns hit the books in “Night School,” which fumbles a few tests but passes in the end.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip”), the ensemble comedy (★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Friday) stars the dynamic pairing of Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, plus a talented bench that fills out its cast of struggling misfits hoping to turn their lives around by studying for the GED. Mostly predictable (though with a few pleasant swerves) and boasting a narrative that could be a lot tighter, “Night School” surprises by being an unexpectedly empathetic look at learning disabilities.
Teddy Walker (Hart) has been called dumb most of his life – back in his Atlanta high school when he freaked out while taking a standardized test and as an adult after dropping out. Still, Teddy has carved out a successful career selling barbecue equipment and has a beautiful fiancée (Megalyn Echikunwoke), though he goes to great financial lengths to impress and keep her around.
A romantic interlude with his main squeeze at Teddy’s work leads to the place going up in flames and him out of a job. His best friend (Ben Schwartz) can get him a financial adviser gig if Teddy can get his GED, which leads him back to his high school, where an old rival is now the hard-nosed principal (a scene-stealing Taran Killam) and there’s a night class taught by Carrie (Haddish), an overworked albeit truly caring teacher.
Her oddball students are more “Bad News Bears” than “Dead Poets Society.” Rob Riggle plays a retired mover who’s taking the test as a deal to keep his kid in school, Romany Malco is a tech-hating factory worker who was replaced by a robot, Anne Winters plays a young girl being forced to graduate by her parents, Mary Lynn Rajskub is a stay-at-home mom needing to get out of the house, rapper Fat Joe’s character is in prison but Skypes into class and Al Madrigal is a Mexican immigrant yearning to be Justin Timberlake or a dental hygienist (he’ll take whatever he can get).