Some things are best left unexplained. Like jokes, or the reason for telling them.
Kevin Hart does a little of the latter in the first 10 or 12 minutes of this frenetic but uneven (and short — not much more than an hour) documentary of a sold-out stand-up show at Madison Square Garden last year. In a home video-like prologue or framing device, he’s seen hosting a big party. It looks a bit like the party at James Franco’s house in “This Is the End” (in which Hart has a cameo), except instead of everyone sycophantically glomming onto the host, they confront him with accusations found on the Internet or in tabloids. Is it true he’s jealous of Eddie Murphy? That he doesn’t like dark-skinned women? That he was busted for DUI? Such abuse is the price of fame, someone tells him. But one charge gets him especially rankled: a guy accusing him of being a “local-ass bitch” who never played Paris.
That’s it — he’s heading directly to Madison Square Garden to explain everything. But first, to counter that “local-ass” charge, he’s going to take us on an international tour he recently finished. Edmonton! Montreal! Oslo! London! (But no Paris.) Each stop a sold-out show complete with lobby testimonials from ecstatic fans that play like sound bites from an ad for the Big Apple Circus. And then it clicks: This is an infomercial for Kevin Hart.
After such a rousing, self-congratulatory opening, the expectations are high. Does he deliver? Few comedians talk so much to get a laugh, and sometimes the strain shows. A bantam-size guy with a voice to match, Hart hits the stage, quickly reaches a Joe Pesci peak of intensity, and pretty much remains at that level throughout the whole show. This frantic energy at times touches on genius, at other times suggests desperation. And the directors don’t do him any favors by the annoyingly frequent close-ups of audience members in convulsions of laughter. So, first the guy has to advertise himself, and then he needs a laugh-track?
Actually, he doesn’t, because I was providing a laugh-track of my own as the show started rolling, and Hart did what he does best, which is to take a scenario true to life and recognizable to all. Then he keeps adding to it with a free association of madcap details and complications. It’s risky, and at times you fear the whole house of cards will come down. But when it works it’s very funny indeed, as when he describes his worst phobias and ends up with the hysterical (you had to be there) phrase “bum bump” — complete with gestures, because in addition to being a motor-mouth, Hart is a gifted fireball when it comes to physical comedy. But not when it comes to explaining it all; when you work this hard and have this much talent, no explanations are needed.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.