By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
For his third (and rumored, final) feature-length stand-up concert film, Kevin Hart went big.
Football stadium big.
Kevin Hart: What Now? commemorates the comic performing for a record 53,000 fans in August of 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Stand-up comedy is subjective, but whether you like his particular style or not, there is no denying that Kevin Hart is a very talented performer who can command an audience with ease. He uses every bit of his 5’4” (obligatory mention of his height) existence to hammer home each joke, contorting and throwing his body across the stage. His perfectly-timed facial expressions are sometimes punchline enough. This is clearly what Hart was born to do.
As for the material, most of it lands, ranging from the observational: his home life with young children and his nameless fiancée (referred to as “my lady”), his attempt at using male sex toys for the first time, an experience with a fan in an airport bathroom –to the random and bizarre: a raccoon nemesis who taunts him with finger guns and various hypothetical scenarios featuring people losing body parts in freak animal attacks.
Even when the jokes aren’t that funny (a bit about the difficulties of placing an order at Starbucks feels particularly dated), Hart manages to still sell them using his confidence and over-the-top delivery. He often makes himself the butt of the joke, playing a loud, arrogant coward, similar to many of the characters he portrays in his films. This persona also allows him to pull off of material that could potentially come off as mean-spirited. Ditching loved ones after they’ve been maimed beyond repair, for example.
The performance is framed by a spy film spoof starring Hart as Agent #0054 (get it?) infiltrating a high-stakes poker game, which eventually goes hilariously bad, hours before he is scheduled to take the stage in front of the largest audience of his life. There are cameos by Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, and Ed Helms, most of whom play heightened versions of themselves which allows for some funny meta-humor.
Selling out a football stadium is a pretty huge accomplishment, and director Leslie Small (Small directed the stand-up portion, while Ride Along’s Tim Story handled the framing spy-parody segments) never lets the audience forget that, with many pans and overhead shots of the packed venue. It often distracts from Hart’s routine.
We get it, it’s a big place.
Stand-up comedy works best when there is a feeling of intimacy between the performer and the audience. Obviously a venue of this size is furthest thing from an intimate setting, and add to that the (theater) audience not actually being there; however the feel can still be accomplished in the way the performance is presented. But Small is not interested in that, never keeping the camera on Hart long enough to establish that connection and instead overloading the film with quick cuts from various angles, the Superbowl-esque bird’s-eye views, and way too many audience reaction shots that come off a bit pandering (Look at everyone laughing! It’s funny!).
Also distracting are the large screens behind Hart that display graphics which correspond to the material. This could have been a fun addition had they enhanced a joke or added something, anything more than just a visual to Hart’s storytelling (which is already descriptive enough on its own), but they seem to only be there for the sake of filling up the huge stage.
For instance, an opening bit in which Hart describes in great detail being afraid to walk down his long, dark driveway at night is accompanied by the screens showing a long, dark, driveway, adding absolutely nothing. Aside from one amusing sight gag (you’ll know it when you see it) the graphics are unnecessary.
Also, the one visual you’ll likely be expecting and waiting for (and what would have been a perfect example of punctuating a gag) never occurs. (Spoiler: it’s the often called-back gangster raccoon. I’m gonna predict right here and now that there will eventually be a feature-length movie about him.)
Fans of Hart will no doubt enjoy his latest offering, though whether rushing to the theater is recommended depends on the person’s degree of fandom. If you would spend money to see Kevin Hart perform live, then this film is for you. For casual fans, I’d wait for Netflix/cable.
Kevin Hart: What Now? (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Hart cracks himself up
Take a Drink: every time he insists something is a true story
Take a Drink: whenever he refers to his fiancée as “my lady”
Take a Drink: at every overhead shot of the stadium
Take a Drink: for every callback. Take Two: when it’s a callback to the raccoon
Take a Drink: every time Hart talks about a family member being killed or dismembered
Do a Shot: for every Really?