Friday, October 21, 2016

Kevin Hart: What Now? (2016)

In observing the intro to Kevin Hart's newest stand-up comedy film, What Now?, I realized how much it is an indication of the progression of his notoriety and demand. I was brought back nostalgically to his first major stand-up special, I'm a Grown Little Man, which opens on a blackened, featureless animated body with a flimsy, copy-and-paste image of Kevin Hart's smiley face, growing through farcical mayhem for...mmmm....25 seconds maximum. 

The intro to this film also involves comically roughshod special effects and displays Kevin Hart in a car, a la James Bond, speeding through with ironic purpose and tongue-in-cheek dignity, supported by a warm palette of black and yellow (shut up, Wiz Khalifa). This espionage milieu continues for ten minutes prior to the actual special. This act, complete with Ed Helms, Don Cheadle, and Halle Berry, is, to my surprise, rollickingly hilarious; a boisterous, impeccably delivered, and proficiently timed. Even more surprising, it actually upstages the actual special. It doesn't demean or demolish it, but the stand-up surprisingly pales in comparison. I guess that's the tragic implication of sharing your title with a leaden, failed Rihanna single.

This special is shot at Lincoln Financial Field in front of a sold-out crowd, as Hart goes into experiences with his fiancee, his children, his father, Starbuck's, women who don't believe shit, etc. Here's the thing. In watching this film, I found myself laughing/smirking about 65% of the special (laughing out loud probably 32%) and the remainder of my experience was just me staring with a doe-eyed, "Please, sir, may I have some more?" aura spritzing from my consciousness.

Kevin Hart's comedic appeal from the start centered around his minimal material and his monstrous personality. He has a very finite comedic spectrum, running the gamut from "women are..." to "All right, all right, all RIIIIIGHT," interspersed with Silly Putty expressions and guttural screeches and yells. He's practically the black equivalent to Jim Carrey. And at the beginning of his career, it was more infectious that the swine flu. Unfortunately, as I punctuated in my Central Intelligence review, Kevin Hart, since Let Me Explain, is in a completely different phase of existence now. 

His formula and format has proven to be tried and true and, after scoring approximately three films a year, he seems to be inadvertently resting on his laurels, not out of sheer indolence or complacency, but because he genuinely is enjoying himself and is in a secure comfort zone where he doesn't have to go beyond his limits. While life oozes out of him in his demeanor, he's starting to forgo tangible jokes and situations, in exchange for merely adequate remnants of levity. I'd say it's comparable to a candy bar: satisfying, but not substantial. I'm not sure when, even if, he will suffer from a massive backlash, but what I do know is that his almost pathetic confidence in his repetitiveness and his painful awareness of his perennial label in the comedic world is beginning to turn his material thin. Very thin.

However, while he's technically approaching a wall head-on and with full force, he still has his full-blooded charisma that is still intriguing and transfixing enough that it feels rewarding at the close of each bit. He has that spark in his eye, that unremitting gaiety, that effervescent earnestness that clinches the deal, regardless whether or not the product is top-notch. Even when I was desperate for Hart to get to the punchline, I was still enjoying him and myself. His unalloyed sincerity comes through totally and definitively in a closing statement, as he departs the stage.

I must admit there were some marginal red flags when I heard he was releasing a comedy special in theaters after his last one showcased his selling-out at Madison Square Garden. I wondered how he was going to top that. To put it frankly, he doesn't. While it ranks as the weakest of his specials, his sparse sensibilities still produce escapism that proves to be simple, yet detectable. It's not suffocatingly funny, but...funny enough. Not a very buoyant, impassioned endorsement, but one, nonetheless.

RATING: Three out of four stars