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Review: Kevin Hart: What Now?

At times throughout this concert film, Kevin Hart’s brash honesty about himself can feel liberating.

Kevin Hart: What Now?
Photo: Universal Pictures

As a stand-up comedian, Kevin Hart frequently walks the line between self-aggrandizement and self-deprecation. Both of those qualities are illustrated in the framing story conceived for his latest concert film, Kevin Hart: What Now? It’s a parody of James Bond films with Hart as “Agent 0054,” who faces off against Don Cheadle, among others, in a casino poker game, with Halle Berry by Hart’s side. The sheer narcissism of Hart imagining himself as a variation on the iconically suave British super-spy is frequently subverted by the comedian’s own loudmouth clumsiness. When Berry explains to a fellow bar patron what she sees in Agent 0054, her compliments about his sensitivity and intelligence are belied by the goofball behavior Hart exhibits at the poker table, which includes pouring beer into a martini glass.

Hart’s willingness to make himself look foolish even as he acknowledges his celebrity is on full display throughout Kevin Hart: What Now?, which, after 20 minutes devoted to spoofing 007, is basically a concert film of the comedian’s performance at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, his hometown, on August 30, 2015. The show broke the record for being the highest-attended comedy event in history—something that Hart triumphantly acknowledges at the end of his set, as if that in and of itself was a remarkable accomplishment beyond confirming his status as one of the biggest comedy stars in the world.

It’s a strange high-water mark to be proud of, because Hart’s material is a weird fit for the gargantuan dimensions of a football arena, as it’s almost exclusively limited to his own personal life and the observations that flow from it. His relationships with members of his extended family provide much of the grist for his set. One of Hart’s more incisive bits revolves around his worries that his children, both of whom attend private school in Los Angeles, may be growing up without the “edge” he was forced to develop as a child. Hart notes that growing up and witnessing peers get hurt or killed represented the lowest points of life in inner-city Philadelphia; for his son, however, the greatest tragedy is WiFi that doesn’t work around the house.

That routine hints at a duality at the heart of Hart’s comedy, at least as it’s developed over the years: He simultaneously basks in his privilege while also worrying about it. A bit toward the end of his set about his struggles while trying to relieve himself in an airport bathroom is, to some degree, defanged when his worst nightmare in this scenario is realized: a fan trying to take a picture of him while he’s sitting on a toilet. As committed as he remains in commenting on universal human experiences like his body forcing him to take a dump in a public restroom, Hart can’t help but filter those observations through the prism of his own fame-induced circumstances, leaving it up to his viewers whether or not to lend him their empathy.

At times, Hart’s brash honesty about himself can feel liberating, like his acknowledged willingness to castigate his children for being less effortful with their birthday gifts to him than he says he is with his parenting. Even when he openly voices his selfishness, though, Hart can’t help but offset such moments with cries of “I know it’s wrong, but I said it”—an occasional refrain that manages to be both self-aware and self-congratulatory at the same time. With director Leslie Small cutting to fawning audience reactions with irritating frequency during Hart’s set, and with the comedian ending the show with back-patting about how he was able to bring people of all races together to laugh at his material, one can’t escape the feeling that Kevin Hart: What Now? is as much a feature-length advertisement for Hart’s celebrity as it is a reasonably enjoyable stand-up set on its own.

Cast: Kevin Hart, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Ed Helms, David Meunier, Joey Wells Director: Leslie Small, Tim Story Screenwriter: Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Brian Buccellato Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 96 min Rating: R Year: 2016 Buy: Video

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