Published Oct 14, 2016There comes a point in the career of every wildly successful stand-up comedian where it's increasingly difficult to tell where the merits of their material end and the slavish devotion of their fan base begins.
It's something you can't help but consider while watching Kevin Hart: What Now?, a film in which stand-up comedy juggernaut Kevin Hart makes history by performing in front of a sold-out crowd of over 50,000 adoring fans at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field. Obviously, Hart crushes in front of his hometown audience, but you're unable to shake the feeling that he's simply coasting, with little left to prove at this point. It's like an hour-long encore or victory lap for the unprecedented run of success he's enjoyed recently. Seriously, what other comic is even capable of commanding a theatrical run of his new comedy special these days?
The film opens with a James Bond homage in which Hart, accompanied by actual Bond girl Halle Berry, competes in a high-stakes game of poker against a generic Russian villain and an impatient Don Cheadle, in an amusing cameo. It's an intermittently funny appetizer to the main course that serves its purpose in padding out his live performance to feature-length, though it plays a little like the half-baked climax to an indulgent Hart spy film that we should probably be glad doesn't actually exist. If nothing else, it may be just an opportunity for Hart to get Berry to assure everyone that not everything about Hart is small.
When he finally does hit the stage in Philadelphia, Hart seems suitably energized but a little bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the venue. He starts out slowly, with a story about an intimidating raccoon that terrorized him at his new suburban home before belabouring a couple of different riffs on missing limbs and having your kneecaps stolen by orangutans that have exhausted all of their comic potential long before he decides to move on to another topic.
He begins to find his comfort zone, though, and scores bigger laughs when he moves on to material about his family, describing nearly all of them as "characters." With a daughter that's fond of patiently waiting to jump out and scare him, a son that's been so spoiled by the luxuries of wealth that the loss of wi-fi qualifies as a disaster and a wife that insists on buying him a sex toy so that he won't be tempted to cheat on her while away filming a movie, there's no shortage of comic potential to be mined from just examining his own home.
Despite a honed knack for selling jokes with his undeniable, self-deprecating charm, Hart's never been known as a comedian willing to push any boundaries with his point of view like some of the greats — which helps explain his mass appeal — and that doesn't change here. Instead, he's content to explore well-trodden territory in his dissection of Starbucks culture or share a one-sided text fight he had with his wife when he accidentally passed out and didn't come home one night. He also has a tendency to try to shoehorn in call-backs to his jokes in ways that are often more awkward than clever.
"Everybody wants to be famous, but nobody wants to do the work," Hart has made his mantra. Chris Rock had another way of putting it when he joked of Hart at the Oscars earlier this year, "They don't make porno movies as fast as he does." If we're witnessing Hart here at perhaps the height of his fame, then, it'll be interesting to see him answer the titular question of his film.