‘Kevin Hart: What Now?’ More Scattershot Comedy, That’s What

Far from wearing out his welcome, Hart the comedian must battle Hart the superstar for some of his stage time -- and he doesn't always succeed.

At this point in his career, comedian Kevin Hart has very little to prove. He’s gone from motor-mouthed sidekick in such films as Think Like a Man and Grudge Match to co-starring along with names such as Ice Cube and The Rock in hits like Ride Along and Central Intelligence. In between, he’s made concert films, worked on TV shows, and used social media to go from simple stand-up to international superstar.

“If you can laugh together, you can live together …”

He’s now the funnyman du jour on Hollywood’s fast track, a name that pops up when a remake needs a spark of spastic comedy (Jumanji, The Intouchables) or you kid vid requires that mandatory stunt voice casting (The Secret Life of Pets, the upcoming Captain Underpants film). Through it all, Hart has maintained a close connection to his base, something he brags about during his latest big screen laugher, Kevin Hart: What Now? This entertaining concert effort is hilarious, as usual, but as with some of his more recent work, it also shows a man reaching the limits of what the demographic will endure.

Using his new found power to preamble his live joke routine, Hart enlists Oscar-winner Halle Berry so that they can play spies on a fictional movie-within-a-movie subplot. They are out to save the world, naturally, and our hero has a hard time doing just that. The result: a career change, resulting in this filmed performance before a mega-crowd at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In front of this throng — numbers are estimated at somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 — Hart has his moments. But he’s also running a bit thin, his ADHD influenced persona starting to fray from overuse.

Like Richard Pryor before him, this is not Hart’s first filmed stand-up show. Both Laugh at My Pain and Let Me Explain have expanded his brand while bringing more and more fans to his scattershot joking. Hart’s main theme (his family and how they frazzle him) can be mined for a lot of good humor, but in What Now? we are supposed to enjoy hearing how a rich comedian deals with such horrors as moving to the suburbs and the teachers at a private school. Gone are the real struggles. In their place is something akin to celebrity privilege.

Granted, Hart is funny. He can take a simple line and milk it for as much as he can. But like most of the criticisms laid at his acting, he’s also loud, chaotic, and undisciplined. There are times when you can see where a joke is going and yet Hart’s head is so far beyond where his mouth is headed that he trips up, treating the mistake like a proud part of his act. He’s got a thing for wild animals — which apparently populate the subdivision he now lives in — and this highlights another flaw in his funny business: he has a tendency to beat bits into the ground, and then keep slugging away until someone (the joke, the audience) cries “Uncle”.

Time is also not on Hart’s side. Timing isn’t the problem, he has that, but duration and length of performance trip him up. Sure, you want to give your stadium audience their money’s worth, but what was sharp and sidesplitting in the first 15 minutes just drags and drags by the last ten. Hart repeats himself, bringing back bits for a second airing that weren’t that good in the first place. He also becomes frustrated internally. You can tell he wants to diverge more from his stock and trade, but he’s also aware that those old chestnuts are the reason most paid their exorbitant ticket prices in the first place.

Indeed, Kevin Hart: What Now? is more like a souvenir than a film. Considering the format, however, that’s fair. Hart has the kind of effervescent enthusiasm and self-deprecating resolve that allows his fans to walk inside his shoes as he mocks death and other everyday horrors. He’s not consistently funny; his routines don’t rise and fall, building to undeniably hilarious punchlines. Instead, he’s like a machine gun, rattling off material at a lightning pace in hopes that some of his stuff strikes the target. Enough does to make Kevin Hart: What Now? worth your time. But there will be moments when you wonder where the editor was and why that editor didn’t trim some fat.

Hart is at his apex now. He can call the shots and name his price. Thanks to several success buddy comedies, he has projects lined up for the foreseeable future and can put his name on almost anything and enjoy success. Kevin Hart: What Now? is as close as a test of that theory as we have right now. Granted, as the funnyman du jour of Tinseltown’s stock and trade, he’s destined to be replaced. However, he always has his jokes to fall back on, and from the quality of this showcase, he will be around a lot longer than others like him who have burned bright and flamed out.

RATING 6 / 10