Every stand-up comic plying his or her trade in every seedy bar and off-brand comedy club in America dreams of one day playing the big rooms. And while Kevin Hart has made the leap from the comedy circuit to movie stardom, he still likes to get behind the mic, only now he does so in the biggest rooms possible.
“Kevin Hart: What Now?” sees the “Ride Along” star doing his thing in front of a record-breaking audience: the capacity Lincoln Financial Field in his hometown of Philadelphia, which reportedly marked the first time ever that a comedian has played to a sold-out football stadium. Hart on stage has always had a gift for connecting with audience members in a one-on-one way, and that skill serves him well in front of this mammoth crowd.
Given his level of wealth and fame, of course, Hart has reached the point in his career that Judd Apatow so skillfully satirized in “Funny People”: a man-of-the-people comic whose material now encompasses his house, his kids’ private schooling and the outrageous demands of pushy fans. But even if Hart has become enough of a big shot to get Halle Berry (whose winning cameo here is a reminder that she should do more comedy) and Don Cheadle to play along with the 007 spoof that opens the movie, he’s still frank and funny enough to relate to the folks in the cheap seats.
As with his previous concert film “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain,” the bookending bits are directed by Tim Story while Leslie Small handles the onstage action. Story’s contributions were mostly pointless last time, but in “What Now,” the spy stuff (also featuring Ed Helms as a bartender) is glossy and silly enough that it never feels like merely a distraction to fill out the running time. (The parts that run before the concert, that is; the button at the end diminishes the impact of the stadium show’s climax.)
Whether or not you find Hart’s stand-up funny is, of course, completely subjective, but he’s a performer with consummate skill and utter ease on stage. Whether he’s expounding upon his fear of wild animals or recounting how he sweated his way through his first experience trying to order something at Starbucks, Hart is a natural raconteur, alternately arrogant and self-deprecating, worldly and juvenile.
Not all of his jokes land, and he occasionally relies on repetition and callbacks in a way that might seem phoned-in, but hey — in front of 50,000 people, you can’t be blamed for wanting the occasional safety net. For me, these dead spots were more than made up for by some brilliant material.
At the end of the evening, Hart observes that his audience is made up of people of all colors, and Small and editors Peter S. Elliot and Guy Harding underscore that fact in their audience cutaways; interspersed with Hart’s performance, we see black people laughing, and white people, and Asians, and Hispanics, and a woman in a headscarf.
Kevin Hart‘s been doing this long enough to know his own sweet spot: no politics, nothing too bawdy or gross, make the joke about being short before anyone else can. At this point, he’s not going to tamper with success, and so for better or worse, “What Now” captures a comedian fully ensconced in his comfort zone.