Comedy juggernaut Kevin Hart isn’t content to merely share the screen in buddy comedies such as “Ride Along” and “Central Intelligence.” He wants to own the screen, as he does in his latest standup comedy film, “Kevin Hart: What Now?” It’s his fifth standup film since 2009, with 2013’s “Let Me Explain” raking in $32 million at the box office. For his latest trick, he sold out Lincoln Financial Field in his hometown of Philadelphia, a record-breaking crowd.
Despite his diminutive stature — of which he will often remind you — Hart commands the packed football stadium with his manic energy and Gatling-gun delivery. He’s aided by a sophisticated stage production including lifts, lighting and screens that set the scene for his jokes and anecdotes — an exterior of his home for a story about being too scared to take out the trash, or a massive toilet to perch upon to discuss his unique fears about airport bathrooms.
Hart has matured and that shows in the material. His jokes are about his family, kids, fiancee and his new life as a movie star, and he doesn’t attempt to project anything other than what he is and what kind of life he leads. He laments that his kids are being ruined by private school because they have no edge — a far cry from his upbringing in Philly, and that he wants to move out of his new house because there’s too much wildlife in the area.
But the humor, as it always has, revolves around Hart’s slightly bratty self-preservation instincts — he digs deep into vulnerabilities and what could be perceived as his flaws as a parent and partner to draw out the laughs. His unabashed embrace of that provides the base of his cultural commentary, particularly around gender.
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His material about his family, including his kids and father, and of course, his relationship — from texting to sex to who investigates the bumps in the night — is the richest and best because it feels the most real. There are a few tangents revolving around hypothetical scenarios that seem a bit pointless, but serve to wrap around as call-backs later. A section on Starbucks lingo feels awfully dated, but even that can work when Hart makes it about himself and his own neuroses.
The performance section is directed by Leslie Small, and it never feels static. Multiple cameras capture the record-breaking crowd and Hart’s every expression. The editing moves along at such a clip you almost wish it would slow down for a moment.
One of the interesting things about “Kevin Hart: What Now?” is the introduction sketch, directed by “Ride Along” director Tim Story. It’s a James Bond parody, with Hart as Agent 0054, with Halle Berry on his arm, facing off against Don Cheadle at the poker table.
Murmurs about the possibility of a “black Bond” have surfaced in the general public, but it doesn’t seem likely the producers will stray from the white male norm. Hart’s turn as 0054 is a fun riff on the genre and a statement that Hart doesn’t need to ask for permission to be Bond — because he can do whatever he wants.
Kevin Hart: What Now?
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Kevin Hart, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Ed Helms.
Directors: Leslie Small and Tim Story.
Running time: 1:36.
Rated: R, for some sexual material, and language throughout.