If you’re not a stranger to movies featuring a favoured comic performing stand-up, the beginning of Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain should be another walk in the park from stage left to stage right.
Before we get to Hart’s routine which sold out New York City’s Madison Square Garden (twice!), audiences are given a Cloverfield-esque intro showing Hart having to defend himself at an after party. After countless patrons questioning him and his on-stage confessions, Hart proclaims his return to the stage in order to – wait for it – explain himself.
This scripted lead-in is supposed to bring the laughs by putting Hart in awkward confrontations, but these scenes establish Kevin Hart as an obnoxious narcissist – trumping any opportunity for funniness.
Now, let me explain. It’s expected for a stand-up comedy film to shed a lot of light onto its main star. It’s a whole other kettle of fish, however, when the film is used for the star to gloat and remind everyone of how important he is.
For an annoying fifteen minutes, Hart brings himself up in conversation many times – either according to the script or during more documentary-type scenes. Soon after, Hart breaks the forth wall and offers a montage of how he traveled far and wide selling out multiple arenas and stages. It’s an impressive feat for a comic to fill spaces as much as he does. It’d be more impressive if it hadn’t felt like Hart was rubbing it in.
Starting off in Canada, Kevin Hart and his crew travel by bus to multiple venues. The tour life is intercut with post-show audiences raving about Hart’s comedy. The film certainly isn’t light on footage of women batting their lashes affirming their love for Kevin Hart.
The egocentric set-up does not start Let Me Explain on a good foot. It’s especially discouraging to a first timer of Hart’s stand-up as I was.
I have to be honest. I had only caught snippets of Hart’s comedy in passing such as his hosting stint on Saturday Night Live. Previous to SNL, my knowledge of Hart hadn’t exceeded his role in Soul Plane and his bit part in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
As all good docs or stand-up movies should do, I was interested in Kevin Hart’s stylings and I wanted Let Me Explain to show me what the hubbub was all about. Actually, the fact that I used “hubbub” in a sentence tells me that I probably don’t belong amongst Hart’s followers.
After his latest comedic offering, I’m not sold just yet. Out of all his material, I only found a third of it to be funny – and, I’m being very generous. A lot of Hart’s comedy consists of shouting and repetitiveness, leading to the comic senselessly hammering the punchline into the ground after its drawn out delivery.
Leslie Small and Tim Story’s film doesn’t reinvent the concert film wheel by any means. Each joke Hart screams, the audience goes wild. Every once in a while, there are a couple of camera perspectives that catch us off guard. But, Small and Story want to stick to a formulaic shooting and cutting routine; just as Hart does with his jokes.
The moments that are the most memorable though are the instances where Kevin Hart shows us that he’s human after all. The funniest moment is unexpected for the comedian as he accidentally breaks his persona to uncontrollably laugh at a ridiculous set built around dirty homeless hands giving people “bum bumps”. The second most memorable moment happens towards the end where Hart gratefully thanks his audience for supporting him and helping him sell out a 30,000 seat theatre (again, twice!). Both genuine moments are neither smug or schmaltzy.
It’s these glimpses that make us shake off those bad vibes we had earlier in the film. Hart is indeed a sincere and generous guy who has a blast doing what he does. Some uncontrived scenes during the credits show Hart and his buddies as a group of fun-loving friends you’d want to have a beer with.
I didn’t laugh as much as I wanted to during Hart’s comedy and Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain as a whole is a definite dud, but at least the comic partially redeems himself by the end and has movie goers happy with him as a person in a way that feels trustworthy.