2.5 stars (out of 5)
Kevin Hart is a huge name in America but remains significantly less loved elsewhere, and this unsurprisingly ludicrous comedy again demonstrates just how much of his shrieking shtick was stolen outright from Chris Tucker (from the Rush Hour movies, and pretty annoying himself). It’s also the first of the pics built around him (like the Ride Along movies but not the last Jumanji, which was an ensemble piece) that he’s had a hand in writing, although he’s credited along with five other scribes and surely was mostly responsible for the worst bits.
An unconvincing opening sequence takes us back to the early 2000s and features Kevin hopelessly trying to look like a teenager, a funny bit from cult player Keith David as his Dad and lots of detail from America’s frankly odd education system. Kev’s Teddy Walker (who has severe learning difficulties manifest in animated sequences where letters and numbers come to life and attack him) doesn’t graduate from High School and gets a gig for years at a barbecue store, but when this place blows up for dumb reasons he’s left with a driving need to get another job and ensure that his improbably gorgeous (and tall) girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke) doesn’t leave him. Because, after all, what she really wants, apparently, is money, and she’s sure to forgive him if he lies to her about every damn thing.
Teddy winds up taking a night school class so he can finally get his diploma as he pushes 40, and he joins a motley mob of sorts who all have their convoluted reasons for being there and keep making him look bad. They include Mackenzie (amusing Rob Riggle), flirty Mila (Anne Winters) and uptight Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub, once one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s favourite players), and they all struggle to learn under the watchful eye of stern Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), who hams it up almost as hammily as Kevin.
Full of the usual silly credibility gaps (the night schoolers are forgiven an awful lot, Mackenzie dislocates his shoulder but the script forgets about it, Lisa is absent for long stretches and is then reduced to being a lingerie clotheshorse), this also has a vein of weird humour wherein Teddy works at a fast-food outlet called ‘Christian Chicken’, where the staff pray a lot and you doubt very much that such a place could possibly exist in real life. But, then again, this is America (good name for a song!), and stranger things have happened.
Like, say, Kevin Hart’s film career.