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Films I Neglected To Review: Dismissed
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Night School," "Pick of the Litter" and "Tea With the Dames."

In ''Night School,'' Kevin Hart stars as Teddy, a guy who seems to have a pretty good life--he has a solid job as a barbecue grill salesman and a beautiful and successful girlfriend (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who is way out of his league. Inevitably, it all blows up in his face, literally, but Teddy's attempts to get a new job are stymied by the fact that he never graduated from high school. With no other choice, he secretly starts taking night classes at his old high school in the hopes of earning his GED alongside the usual collection of wacko classmates (including the likes of Rob Riggle, Mary Lyn Rajskub and Romany Malco) and an overworked and underpaid teacher (Tiffany Haddish) who is as dedicated as they come but who is perfectly capable of delivering vicious verbal putdowns to keep her students in line. Unfortunately, Teddy's former school enemy, Stuart (Taran Killam) is now the principal of the school and when he isn’' prowling the halls wielding a baseball bat a la Joe Clark, he is secretly plotting to undermine Teddy’s plans by any means necessary for reasons that the screenplay can hardly bother to explain.

The funniest joke in ''Night School'' comes right at the start when the opening credits reveal that no less than six people have their names attached to who is being passed off here as a screenplay. Little more than a collection of uninspired plot points and go-nowhere improvs that have been edited together almost at random, this is a film that somehow manages to be even more listless, lifeless and mirthless than the trailers hyping it suggest. If you recall all of those toothless and desperately unfunny comedies that Richard Pryor made in the 80s after recovering from his horrific accident that found him neutering the edge that made him our greatest and most daring stand-up comedian in order to goof off in what were little more than extended sitcoms. Of course, the main draw here is the promise of verbal fireworks between Hart and Haddish but what transpires is not so much a modern-day ''My Little Chickadee'' as it is simply for the birds. Hart does the same wacky motor-mouthed schtick that he has done in practically every other movie he has been in but rarely has it fallen as flat as it does here. Haddish gets a couple of good lines off here and there but is hampered both by a role that is flat and uninteresting and by the constrictions brought on by the decision to go for a PG-13 rating. Throw in some stabs at humor that are more cringe-worthy than amusing (ranging from some wacky vomiting to Rajskub twerking to a truly unfortunate bit in which Haddish catches Hart dressed up as the mascot of a fried chicken restaurant and whips him with a belt), moments of cloying sentiment that are more laughable than most of the jokes and an unconscionably long run time and the end result is a film that is approximately as entertaining as two hours spent in detention.

Essentially a cross between any documentary following a group of characters as they set off to pursue the same unique goal and an especially elaborate YouTube video compilation, the new documentary ''Pick of the Litter'' is so determined to be the most adorable thing to ever hit the screen that it is almost a wonder that the filmmakers didn’t simply call it ''Awwwww: The Movie'' and just be done with it. Co-directed by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, the film follows five Labrador pups as they attempt to become seeing-eye dogs, a rigorous process that begins practically the day after they are born and which only a few will ultimately succeed at in the end. Through the eyes of the puppies--Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil--we watch as they first go through a two-month period of initial training before being sent out to foster parents who will further prepare them for up to 16 months before sending them back for even more specialized study before those that make it through are finally placed with lucky applicants.

Dog lovers will no doubt cherish every loving shot of the dogs looking simultaneously noble and adorable but those who are not quite as susceptible to their four-legged charms may find the film to be rough going at times. It is interesting to learn about the extensive process that goes into training dogs for this particular purpose, I suppose, but after a while, it begins to feel like the human interest segment of a news magazine show that has been inexplicably stretched out from 10 minutes to 80. The other problem is that while we are not supposed to be necessarily rooting for one dog to win over the others, they all pass through so many caretakers and trainers throughout the process that it is hard to really develop any rooting interest in any of the individual dogs. In the end, ''Pick of the Litter'' is cute enough and showcases an eminently worthwhile cause but it just proves to be a little too insubstantial for its own good, though I have a sneaky suspicion that lovers of all things puppy-related will feel a little more warmly towards it than I.

When confronted a film that featured a number of good actors in the service of a substandard screenplay, the late Gene Siskel used to suggest that watching a documentary featuring those actors having lunch together would have been far more entertaining and edifying. With ''Tea With the Dames,'' director Roger Michell essentially takes that concept and runs with it by gathering together four of England’s most acclaimed and accomplished actresses--Dames Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright--at the latter’s country estate and turning the cameras on them as they dish about their long-running friendships, careers, lives and loves for 90 minutes that are further fleshed out by an array of judiciously selected clips from their considerable resumes. From a cinematic standpoint, this is about as basic and pedestrian as it gets--this is the type of film that may actually look more at home on the small screen than in theaters--but no one goes to a movie like this in order to bask in its visual opulence. No, they go to see four legends dish about their professional and personal lives and in that respect, it is undeniably entertaining. Whether hearing Smith confess that she has never actually watched an episode of “Downton Abbey” (''I shall have to hasten or I'll never see the wretched thing'') or Plowright, who is the only one of the four who has officially retired due to vision problems, claiming that her agent keeps promising to find her ''a nice little cameo that Judi Dench hasn’t got her paws on'' or getting a glimpse of Dench starring in the 1968 London production of ''Cabaret,'' the film is a blast to watch from start to finish. For anyone with a keen interest in the world of acting, ''Tea With the Dames'' is essential, of course, but others should find it to be a lot of fun as well.

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originally posted: 09/29/18 01:13:53
last updated: 09/29/18 01:22:49
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