By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Talk about a Hart being in the right place.
Diminutive comedian/actor Kevin Hart seems to be everywhere: on stage, on screen, on everything in between.
And his latest concert film shows him not only doing stand-up, but accomplishing something no one has done before.
Kevin Hart: What Now? is a concert documentary about the Philadelphia-born comedian’s stand-up performance in front of 53,000-plus people in Philadelphia’s sold-out Lincoln Financial Field in August of 2015 — the first time any comedian has ever performed in an at-capacity football stadium.
Hart has been a busy screen actor in recent years with Ride Along 1 and 2, Think Like a Man 1 and 2, Grudge Match, About Last Night, The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard, and Central Intelligence — just a few of the titles on his crowded resume.
To say nothing of his other concert films, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain and Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain.
Kevin Hart: What Now? was produced by Hart and five other producers; written by Hart, Harry Ratchford, and Joey Wells; and directed by Leslie Small and Tim Story, the duo who directed the other two concert films.
This third stand-up doc is the strongest among his trio of concert films, sure to please Hart fans and likely to create some new ones. It opens and closes with a – you should excuse the expression – short subject, a bookended James Bond parody featuring Hart, Halle Berry, and Don Cheadle that mostly takes place at a casino poker table.
Although it generates a few laughs, there’s too much of it at the top, making us impatient for Hart’s stand-up to begin. But it eventually does, and he performs in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative full house, speaking about anything and everything, and his film fully earns its R rating, but never in a mean-spirited way.
Hart’s unique anecdotal comic style does not depend on setups and punchlines in the traditional sense, but on lengthy accounts inspired by his life: yarns is what they are, most involving interaction with his loved ones, especially those involving the ludicrous, self-deprecatory frustrations, indignities, and absurdities born of reality.
There’s plenty of physical humor as well as Hart plays various characters whom he’s discussing and makes sure that his facial expressions are big enough to register for folks in the furthest reaches.
And he connects with his live audience in a way that makes it easy for viewers of the movie to not only picture the scenes he’s setting but to feel not only that they’ve heard about them but that they’ve actually witnessed them.
No easy task, that, but Hart puts his heart in it and it plays.
Some jokes are G-rated, some are not, Some are realistic, some are not. Some are cartoon-like, some are not. Some are friendly, some are not.
But all are personal and all are humor-as-a-coping-mechanism funny — sometimes even spit-out-your popcorn hilarious. And in the same way that Hart often draws focus as the best thing in an ensemble flick, his kinetic energy and machine-gun delivery doing stand-up keeps his audience enthralled.
Most of the time, the crowd-pleaser steers clear of sociopolitical issues, instead focusing on relatable material with the broadest possible appeal.
And he doesn’t come close to wearing out his welcome. Instead, he performs on the high wire and sends us home wanting more.
Even the frequent shots of audience members heartily laughing, while seemingly self-congratulatory, are fun to see.
What now, indeed.
What Hart undoubtedly aspires to is for the narrative movies in which he either stars or appears to deliver the same level of entertainment satisfaction as his (essentially) one-man flicks do.
And he just might be getting there.
Meanwhile, we’ll entertain 3 stars out of 4 for Kevin Hart: What Now? while we watch this stand-up guy do his refreshingly idiosyncratic thing in front of thousands and earn his fair share of raucous laughs.