Building camaraderie: 'Night School,' 'Predator'

By Tom Von Malder | Jan 11, 2019
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment The "Night School" student group goes on operation get exam.

Owls Head — Night School (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13/NR, 111/116 min.). "Night School," produced by star Kevin Hart, is one of the actor's better films -- barely -- once it gets in the classroom. Prior to that the film has a lot of falls-flat humor and one particularly tasteless segment. However, once Hart's barbeque grill salesman Teddy Walker enrolls in night school, so he can get his GED and thereby take a job at friend Marvin's brokerage firm, the film gets interesting and amusing..

The film opens with Walker erupting while taking the college entrance standard exam and walking out. Although never admitted until late in the film, Walker obviously has learning disabilities -- graphics of math problems coming alive and spreading all over attest to this -- but he is able to use his charisma to become a successful salesman after high school. One problem, though, is he is living way above his means to impress his girlfriend (Megalyn Echikunwoke as Lisa). On the night he proposes to Lisa, Walker accidently blows up his place of employment. Walker then is forced into night school. A flashback shows Walker humiliating a fellow student --  Taran Killam as Stewart Patowsky, who obviously becomes a stumbling block in Walker's future as he now is the school's principal.

Teaching the class is feisty Carrie (Tiffany Haddish of "Uncle Drew," "Keanu"), who is immune to Walker's "charm" and spiel, but actually cares about her students, despite being overworked at the school. It is the fellow classmates and Walker's interactions with them that lifts the film a lot. Rob Riggle plays "Big Mac" Mackenzie, who is rather dumb but is going for his GED so his son will not quit high school. Romany Malco is Jaylen, recently fired from a bottling plant that is now using robots. Al Madrigal is Luis, the Mexican waiter Walker accidentally got fired when he tried to cheat his way out of paying a dinner tab. (That was the gross humor scene.) Luis wants to be a pop star (he gets to sing "El Suena" nicely at the prom.) Anne Winters is Mila, who faces jail time after drugs were found in her school locker. Mary Lynn Rajskub (TV's "24") is Theresa, who originally dropped out of high school because she was pregnant and now is a disgruntled housewife. Then, there is Bobby (Fat Joe), who is taking the class via Skype from prison. The actors work well together as a comedy ensemble, especially as they are not bright enough to avoid getting sucked into Walker's schemes to cheat the system. Individual highlights are Bobby getting involved in a prison brawl while "in class" and Theresa trying to seduce Principal Stewart as a distraction. There even is a laugh-out-loud puking scene.

The bits where Walker is working for the Christian Chicken fast-food place probably could have been cut, but in general, director Malcolm D. Lee ("Girls Trip," "The Best Man") keeps things moving and wisely plays up the supporting actors as much as possible. The film is attributed to six writers, including Hart, who only throw in one bad Donald Trump joke.

Extras include an alternate opening (6:29), which moves up the high school taunting of Stewart and shows Walker's problems with tests, and six deleted scenes (13:27), all with optional commentary by director Lee. Lee also does feature audio commentary on the theatrical version only. There is a gag reel (11:04) with a funny Oliver Twist song lyric. The actors talk about each other in the eight character profiles (13:33) and Hart and Haddish talk about each other in another featurette (2:33).  More promotional type shorts include looks at prom night (3:07), making the dance battle at prom (3:45), the graduation scene (2:08), a Christian Chicken TV ad with Hart (40 secs.); a look a Yvonne Orji as Maya, Lisa's friend (1:46); and an extended version of Luis singing "El Sueno," with a rap portion by Jay (2:40). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Predator (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray + DVD or standard DVD, R, 106 min.). This fourth film in the franchise -- sixth if you count "Alien vs. Predator" and "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem," which the filmmakers obviously do not -- takes a slightly more humorous approach, having lead Capt. Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook of "Logan," "The Host"), an Army Ranger sniper, build rapport and work with "the Loonies," a group of five "crazy" war veterans. It also repeats the basic action premise of the initial film.

The film opens with a brief battle in space, with one ship escaping through a wormhole and crashing on Earth. An escape pod, launched from that ship, crashes near where Capt. McKenna and his men are trying to rescue hostages from drug dealers in Mexico. McKenna is the only survivor from an encounter with the Predator and he has taken a Predator helmet and forearm gauntlet from the wreckage. He mails his alien artifacts, including a control device known as the Kuhjad, to his P.O. Box, but since he has not paid for the box in months, the mailman delivers the package to the home of McKenna's estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski as Emily), where his young son (Jacob Tremblay of "Wonder" as Rory) opens the package and activates the alien technology. Rory, who is autistic, but brilliant, even uses the helmet as his Halloween costume, leading to one memorable scene.

The Loonies, whom McKenna hooks up with when they escape being shackled in an Army bus during a Predator attack, include Thomas Jane as Baxley, who suffers from Tourette's; Keegan-Michael Key as Coyle; Trevante Rhodes as Nebraska; Alfie Allen as Lynch; and Augusto Aguilera as Nettles. Baxley and Coyle provide good humor. The group also is thrown together with evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), who was brought in by the CIA's Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) to study a captured Predator. The film also returns Dr. Peter Keyes ( Jake Busey) from  "Predator 2" (1990) and director/co-writer Shane Black (writer of "Last Action Hero," "Lethal Weapon"; director of "Iron Man 3") played Hawkins, the bespectacled character, in the original "Predator" (1987).

There are several good action sequences in the film, including a Predator escape from a laboratory. An even larger Predator shows up to hunt the first and brings along Predator dogs! Things only get a bit silly at the end, when  some of the good guys jump atop the Predator ship as it lifts off.

Extras include an excellent look at the creation of the Predator models and suits, plus the stunt work by Brian Alexander Prince, who filled the Predator suit (20:11). There also are four deleted scenes (6:55); a look at director Black, including clips of him from the original film (10:28); a look at the Loonies team (16:14); a photo gallery; and clips from the first three Predator films (9:07). Grade: film and extras 3 stars

Mid90s (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 85 min.). The film is the directorial debut of actor Jonah Hill, who also wrote the script. Rather than follow a plot, the film is a slice of life story about 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic of "The House With a Clock in Its Walls; see next week's review), who falls in with a group of older kids who hang out at the Motor Avenue skate shop. It is Los Angeles in the 1990s and young Stevie wants to be a skateboarder. He does not get along too well with his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges of  "Boy Erased," "Ben Is Back," "Manchester By the Sea," earning an Oscar nomination for the latter). Katherine Waterston plays their mother, Dabney.

The ragtag group he falls in with include leader Ray (Na-kel Smith); Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin of "Summer of 17," TV's "Ballers"), who is constantly filming with his camcorder; F******t (Olan Prenatt), with long blond curls and a nickname I cannot publish here; and Ruben (Gio Galicia). Ruben is the one closest in age to Stevie, but he soon becomes jealous of the attention the others pay to Stevie, whom they nickname "Sunburn" (the result of a question on whether African Americans need sunscreen). There is some good casual conversations within this group, but also some bonehead decisions -- one of which is painfully obvious beforehand -- with Stevie taking a lot of hard knocks. (Like "Night Class," this film also has a hard fall from a roof.)

The film ends rather abruptly, with the short film that Fourth Grade has made out of his recordings. In addition to plot, Hill's script is light on explanations, but there is a lot of subtext here: Ruben's desperate desire to seem cool and Stevie becoming immune to being beaten by his brother for no apparent reason. The film has an original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as a selection of cool Nineties hits. Extras include audio commentary by Hill and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt ("Don't Worry He Won't Go Far on Foot," a Gus Van Sant film in which Hill starred and Suljic had a small role as a skateboarder); and four deleted scenes (3:01), including an amusing one in which the skateboarders, driving by a movie theater line in their car, shout out the reveal at the end of "The Usual Suspects." Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

The Car: Road to Revenge (Universal DVD, NR, 88 min.). This is the long-time-coming, but not awaited sequel to the 1977 film, "The Car," in which a small desert town is terrorized by a seemingly possessed car. James Brolin and Kathleen Lloyd were the stars. Some 40 years later, the action has moved to a dilapidated, cyberpunk city, plagued by crime and corruption.

The District Attorney (Jamie Bamber of Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica") has received a data file that will bring down a crime operation run by the Night. Before he can get the information, his office is invaded and he is beaten and thrown out the window, landing atop his appropriately named Lazarus One car. From that point, the DA's spirit melds with the car, which roars around town running people over in acts of revenge. Investigating the murder is down-in-the-dumps Detective Rainer (Grant Bowler of "Killer Elite," Syfy's "Defiance"). The DA's ex, who becomes endangered because she might have the data chip, is played by Kathleen Munroe. The lone connection between the two films is Ronny Cox as the Mechanic.

The bad guys all look like extras from the "Mad Max" films, while some of them have had body parts modified into weapons, such as a flame thrower or a drill. That is the work of the Night -- basically a silly character is his doctor's robe -- who does black market cyber surgery. There is lots of blood and flying body parts, and of course, the obligatory strip club scenes. It is all pretty seedy. The only thing good about the film are the car action sequences, including one incredible multiple flip, although sometimes it seems like the "Death Race" series. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars

Family Guy: 20 Greatest Hits (2000-2016, 20th Century Fox, 3 DVDs, 476 min.). This collection celebrates the show's 20th anniversary with 20 song-and-dance-filled episodes, along with a symphony of extras created exclusively for this release. So grab "A Bag o’ Weed," roast a "Candy Quahog Marshmallow!" and enjoy "The FCC Song" with your favorite "Shipoopi," because "You’ve Got a Lot to See" and hear here. Four of the episodes are widescreen. Extras include a 27-plus song music machine; lyrics to "I Need a Jew," "Drunken Irish Dad" and "It's a Wonderful Day For Pie"; and the featurette, "300 Episodes, Two Cancellations and One Mural." The language is not suitable for all ages.

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