'Kevin Hart: What Now?': Film Review
Kevin Hart talks remarriage and parenting in a stand-up film documenting his record-breaking stadium show in Philadelphia.
Stand-up sensation Kevin Hart may enjoy making self-deprecating jokes about his height, but the diminutive star has no insecurities about his commercial appeal: The very name of his "What Now?" comedy tour seems to lament that there are no worlds left to conquer, and indeed, Leslie Small's new performance doc finds him in an unprecedented setting — selling out a football stadium in his hometown, Philadelphia.
A more natural performance than the one captured in his previous Let Me Explain, if not one for the ages, this hyped outing will delight fans and, given Hart's increasing exposure in such features as Central Intelligence, may even attract a few ticketbuyers who usually consume their stand-up on the small screen.
As in the previous pic, Hart uses a staged framing device to stretch an hour or so of jokes into a feature-length film. But here, the filler's more fun, presenting Hart as Agent 54, a Bond-like spy accompanied by sidekick Halle Berry into a high-stakes poker game. Don Cheadle has the most successful of several marquee-worthy cameos here, making this baldly derivative sketch more fun than it deserves to be.
But soon, a nearly nonsensical transition gets Hart out of the casino and into the open-air home of the Philadelphia Eagles, where he thankfully has opted out of the massive pyrotechnics that made Let Me Explain resemble a hair-metal concert. This time, his backdrop consists of giant video screens that sometimes threaten to deflate a set-piece anecdote, adding rudimentary visuals to a scene Hart has described perfectly well with words. The A/V add-ons represent cheap and unimaginative production value for a tour this size, reminding the moviegoer how unnatural it is for a comic, whose natural venue is a basement-sized barroom, to play such a gargantuan spot.
But while he refers once or twice to the unprecedented nature of the gig (it's one for "the history books," he says at the end, calling it "the best night of my life"), Hart hardly lets it affect his delivery: A bit of visible perspiration aside, he seems more at ease here than in his last special. He leads with a strong bit of domestic material, describing how a raccoon at his home has him so scared after dark that he forces his 7-year-old son to take out the trash. This launches two recurring topics: the way Hart believes private school is "f—ing up" his child, depriving him of streetwise edge; and his own willingness to throw any loved one under the bus, should the going get tough.
The latter topic yields a bit of underwhelming physical comedy, as Hart imagines being stuck in a relationship with a woman who has lost her shoulder in an accident. But he turns the bit around when mimicking a man with no knees, walking stiff-legged until he laughs so hard at his own material he has to pause to regroup.
Reheating some old themes to good effect, Hart describes how he's willing to lie to his new wife when the truth is too silly to believe: What man really stays out all night because he and his buddies bought a ping-pong table for an impromptu grudge-settling tournament? But the strongest (if not most imaginative) jokes at his own expense come when Hart describes his first stressed-out trip to get coffee at Starbucks.
The comedian's delivery, high-energy throughout, helps him put over material that is funny but hardly justifies the record-setting receipts of Hart's 2016 tour. It's difficult to explain what makes him a bigger draw than his more inventive peers, aside from some charismatic appearances in hit Hollywood comedies. Most performers who enjoy such breakthroughs step away from the mic for as long as the movie roles keep coming. But for Hart, the answer to "what now?" seems to be "as many concerts as the market will bear."
Production company: Hartbeat Productions
Directors: Leslie Small, Tim Story
Screenwriters: Kevin Hart, Joey Wells, Harry Ratchford
Producers: Jeff Clanagan, Leland Wigington
Executive producer: Dave Becky
Production designer: Bruce Ryan
Costume designer: Olivia Miles
Editors: Peter S. Elliot, Guy Harding
Rated R, 96 minutes