Nobody works harder at getting a laugh than Kevin Hart. It’s exhausting to watch.
Gold-plated mike in hand, he spins his yarns faster and faster, his voice pitched higher and higher, his burly, bantam body racing, lurching, dancing across the stage with such dogged frenzy that it looks like it’s shot in fast-motion. Contrived, inane, absurd, and occasionally brilliant, it’s all a blur. The laughs, though intermittent and sometimes forced, are earned. And the transitions between bits are cleverly contrived, with all the moving parts coalescing in one concluding, comic coda.
How to capture this eruption of determined, middling comedy on screen? Perhaps not, as is the case with “Kevin Hart: What Now?,” with a labored James Bond framing device that includes cameos from Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, and Ed Helms. But the main event is impressive, at least in scale. As the opening titles state, on August 30, 2015, Hart filled Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field with 50,000 fans, setting a record — exactly why is not clear — for a stand-up comedy act.
Fittingly for such an extravaganza, the set looks like the Academy Awards as staged by Albert Speer: Hart on stage dwarfed by towering Jumbotron images of himself, with a giant screen behind him showing needless reenactments of the yarns he’s spinning. The director Leslie Small (Tim Story helmed the 007 sketch), as is expected in such concert films, cuts from close-ups of Hart to close-ups of convulsed audience members, to extreme long shots of Hart looking minute and barely discernible in the midst of the monumental production values.
But you will likely laugh more than once and leave in a better mood than when you went in. The best bits: Hart’s imitation of a woman with only one shoulder and a man with no knees; his candor about abandoning loved ones in scenarios of imaginary danger; his ambivalent relationship with sex toys. The concluding homily — about how great it is to unite through the magic of laughter so many people from every race, religion, and sexual orientation (but probably not class; the tickets must have cost a fortune) — is refreshing in these days of division and rancor.
KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?
Directed by Leslie Small and Tim Story. Written by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells. Starring Kevin Hart, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Ed Helms. At Boston Common. Fenway, suburbs. 96 minutes. Rated R (some sexual material and language throughout).