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Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain: Film Review

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain

The Bottom Line

By-the-numbers performance film will satisfy fans.

Opens

Wednesday, July 3 (Summit Entertainment)

Director

Leslie Small

Kevin Hart mines his marriage's breakup for material in a new stand-up film.

Self-deprecation and ambition rub against each other in Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, a cinematically thin document of a stand-up tour that aimed to present the comedian as an ascendant pop star. Diverting but not enough to expand Kevin Hart's fan base much, the film should be no less commercially attractive than 2011's Laugh at My Pain and will prime fans for a full slate of upcoming appearances in features such as Ride Along.

Padding less than an hour's worth of on-stage material into something approaching theatrical feature length, the film begins with a staged set-up in which critics pepper Hart with rumors and accusations ("Is it true you don't f--- with dark-skinned girls any more?"), prompting him to instruct his manager to "Call the Garden, tell them I'm coming down there" to explain himself. Before we get to his sold-out Madison Square Garden show, the film offers a sequence documenting his Canadian/European tour, with "We love Kevin!" post-concert fan interviews growing tiresome quickly.

Finally -- 16 minutes in, and after a quick backstage prayer -- we see the comedian take to the MSG stage, announced by a half-dozen jets of open flame. Hart says he got that idea from a couple of up-and-coming entertainers called Jay-Z and Kanye West, and he isn't above using the pyrotechnics to pat himself on the back: Multiple times during the set, he tells the crowd "I'm f---in' killin'!" and triggers the flames.

Though the material may occasionally lag for movie theater audiences, onscreen evidence suggests he did actually kill in person. He even cracks himself up a couple of times, once laughing so long he has to abandon a bit about bums and finish it a few moments later.

Hart's introductory material envisions the film as a chance to clear the air about controversies that have emerged as his fame has increased (a DUI arrest this April, for instance), but the bulk of the performance is about the misbehavior and personality conflicts that led to his 2010 divorce. After taking pains to say he respects his ex-wife and their break was amicable (or "applicable," as he puts it), he proceeds to paint her as jealous to the point of insanity, mimicking her accusatory postures and rants in ways the crowd eats up. Recognizable depictions of relationship strife eventually give way to extreme episodes, like a story in which his wife tries to keep tabs on him by hiding in his trunk when he leaves the house. Hart claims the incident actually happened, but his account is neither convincing nor all that funny.

More successful are bits targeting his own misbehavior. "I love to lie," he says, before launching into a long complaint about a best friend whose lack of skill on this front exposed one of Hart's infidelities to his wife. Elsewhere his admissions are more endearing, as when he mocks himself for inventing elaborate stories instead of owning up to simple failings.

Tech qualities are fine, though the staged material has a slapdash feel. Leslie Small's direction of performance footage gets the job done, though she emphasizes a couple of the comedian's indulgent tics (repeating "no, no, no, no" in a Poindexter voice, for instance) that don't benefit from close-ups.

Production Company: Hartbeat Productions

Director: Leslie Small

Producers: Jeff Clanagan, Blake W. Morrison

Executive producers: Michael Goldfine

Director of photography: Keith Smith

Production designer: Bruce Ryan

Music: Kennard Ramsey

Editor: Spencer Averick

R rating, 74 minutes