'Kevin Hart: What Now?'
While I’d certainly never claim to be the world’s biggest Kevin Hart fan (I’ve got the feeling that title belongs to Kevin Hart), he’s just about the only comedian keeping the theatrical stand-up concert movie alive. It used to be a fairly common way for a group of people to get together and feed off the live audience energy that enhances stand-up without being in a club. The only problem is that it takes a certain kind of act to bring enough folks to the theater to justify a theatrical release. They gotta be big and they gotta be broad. Kevin Hart is certainly both of those things (though not necessarily literally).
This is Hart’s third stand-up film following ‘Laugh at My Pain’ and ‘Let Me Explain’. The previous ones made quite a bit of money for this sort of thing. He’s not just the only comedian who can get a stand-up concert movie a wide release; he can actually bring in about $30 million for the trouble. That means that Hart gets a big blockbuster intro to kick off the movie this time. It’s tradition that many a stand-up films and specials open with some sort of skit to take the comedian to the stage. Here the joke is the scale of that skit. Filmed by Hart’s ‘Ride Along’ director Tim Story, the gag seems to be how big they can possibly make the intro. Unfortunately, it isn’t that great. It starts with a decent parody of James Bond credit scenes, then basically devolves into a series of expensive shots of Hart running through a casino in a tuxedo while screaming. He runs into a few celebrity cameos such as Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. Honestly, the skit adds very little to the movie other than some cinematic scale to put in the trailers.
There’s another problem with the intro, too. Despite the fact that Kevin Hart has become one of the most in-demand comedic actors in Hollywood, he’s never been that great as a screen actor. Although he has a certain casual naturalism and charm, and can scream big and flail around with the best of them, that routine doesn’t quite stick like his stand-up. Maybe he just hasn’t gotten the right movie yet, but even here in a short of his own design to kick off his big stand-up special, Hart hasn’t quite settled into a screen persona that works as well as when he gets on a stage with a microphone. Maybe he’ll find that someday, or maybe he won’t. After all, it’s not as if folks like Chris Rock, Richard Pryor or George Carlin ever quite hit as hard as actors as they did as comics. The skills aren’t always easily transferrable.
While I wouldn’t put Hart in quite the same league as those comedic icons that I just mentioned, the guy is pretty funny. He’s not a closet philosopher or someone who makes you think deeply or shift perspective. He just does funny stuff. He commands the stage, dipping in and out of physical business with ease and playing his scream like an instrument. The guy can work a crowd, even the stadium he’s playing here. His material ranges from autobiographical to cultural. Some stuff really works, like his frustration with the suburbs and his softened kids. Some stuff is a bit more tiresome, like a bit about overlong Starbucks orders. Still, Hart knows how to find funny material and sell the shit out of it. There’s no surprise why he’s so popular. It’s damn near impossible not to laugh at some point.
It would be nice if more deep and intellectual stand-ups could also get the chance to see their specials play in theaters to interactive audiences. Maybe Hart will reopen that door. For now, it makes sense that he’s the guy. He has the fundamentals down. He can work just about any crowd, even if he’ll challenge few of them. Irritating opening aside, ‘What Now?’ works. It plays. It might even outgross his last special. If you like Kevin Hart, you’ll like this. If not, chances are you wouldn’t even read a review of his stand-up special, much less actually buy a ticket. He’s the big crowdpleaser comic right now. Biggest doesn’t necessarily mean best, but you gotta give the guy credit for taking full advantage of his moment.