Film Review: Kevin Hart: What Now?

Concert footage of Kevin Hart performing in an outdoor arena in Philadelphia provides a deft approximation of his act.
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After concentrating on movie roles, Kevin Hart returns to filmed standup for the first time since 2013's Let Me Explain. Raucous and profane, Kevin Hart: What Now? is a quick fix for his many fans and consistently diverting fun for everyone else.

Hart has honed his material down to essentials, his delivery rising and falling expertly, his timing impeccable. Fans will have heard some of these routines before from his talk-show appearances, but onstage Hart can exploit them more fully and also tie them together into something of a narrative.

Hart's standup character is one of his most appealing traits. A self-professed coward and narcissist, a relentless braggart and loudmouth, he isn't afraid to make himself look as awful as possible. Betraying his family, exploring sex toys, being bested by pets—Hart lets it all show, his anger and indignities adding to his failures.

Fans never doubt Hart's core decency, so his tirades about girlfriends, children, friends, contractors, Starbucks, restroom stalls in airports, raccoons and everything else stay funny, not offensive. His material (written by Hart along with Joey Wells and Harry Ratchford) is a canny mix of extravagantly profane street slang and weird bits of upscale lingo. A thug friend will exhort Hart to make "better life decisions," for example, while another bit has a priceless gag about Wi-Fi.

The comic's intensity and repetition of catch phrases like "disappeared into the dark" keep the entire performance upbeat, even when he is debating how disabled a girlfriend can become before he abandons her. (Spoiler alert: Losing a shoulder would be a bad move.)

The performance was filmed in Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, an outdoor stadium that holds over 50,000. As a result, What Now? loses some of the intimacy of a nightclub appearance, despite dozens of cameras that capture every element of Hart's act. There's also a self-congratulatory feel to some of the footage, especially reaction shots from the audience.

Hart is more a performer than a comedian, which is how he can hold an audience even when his jokes don't land. As What Now? shows, right now few peers can match him.

Framing the concert are two segments that harmlessly parody James Bond movies. Written by Hart and directed by Tim Story, "Casino" finds the performer disrupting a poker game with Don Cheadle and David Meunier and flirting with a game Halle Berry. (Ed Helms adds very little as a bartender.) Amusing if a bit tame, the segments last just long enough to avoid being annoying.

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