Kevin Hart is a comedy superstar, a comedian who can command a record-breaking crowd of 50,000 people in a sold out Philadelphia football stadium. “What Now?” is the filmed version of this performance, a standup concert movie that has a few hearty laughs and is sure to please his core fan base.
The movie starts out with an awkwardly unfunny opening bit, an unnecessary parody of James Bond movies that probably looked good on paper but doesn’t translate well to the screen. There are some weird cameos by Ed Helms, Don Cheadle (who gets the most laughs), and Halle Berry; most of the prologue’s storyline was spoiled in the film’s trailers. Once Hart takes the stage with his trademark swagger, things start to heat up.
The stage sets are engaging, changing often to keep things interesting, but Hart himself is so likeable and so confident that he steals the spotlight with his amusing banter. He riffs on everything from his personal life (friends, kids, dad and fiancée) to crazy fans (one insisting on snapping a selfie in an airport bathroom) to sex (there are plenty of racy, raunchy jokes in this R-rated comedy). The jokes run the gamut and while not everything is funny, there are certain to be several bits that strike a chord and will leave you chuckling.
Hart is enjoyable to listen to and fun to watch (he’s physically funny too), but this routine doesn’t really warrant a big screen release and would be better suited for cable. I’d estimate that perhaps 50% of the movie is funny. Of course, it’s not only about the laughs: it’s about the experience of watching it in a theater. This provides a far better communal experience than watching at home (the directors insert just enough crowd reaction shots to really make you feel as if you are sitting right there in the sold out stadium). It isn’t one of the greatest standup movies ever, but it’s a fun way to escape for a couple of hours and presents a good introduction to his brand of wisecracks.
Hart’s humor spans all races, classes and genders, making this an all-inclusive moviegoing experience. This is something that he points out in the film’s ending, saying that “if we can laugh together, we can live together; if we can live together, we can love together.” Truth.
“What Now?” is sure to please fans of Kevin Hart‘s comedy. For the uninitiated, it’s also a good introduction to the comedian and his musings.
Like most of the greats before him, Hart’s comedy is popular because it has a broad, almost universal appeal. In “What Now?” he hits on a number of subjects that most will find relatable: relationships with family, girlfriends and boyfriends; fear of the dark; male-female communications; and how old people deal with new technology. His delivery is natural and conversational, his timing impeccable, and his physicality (both with facial expressions and with the way he moves) is impeccable.
As a concert movie, it’s assembled well. There are just enough crowd reaction shots to help sell the material and make you feel like you’re there, but they aren’t overdone. There’s a communal feeling that you get when you’re attending shows like this one (I was able to catch him on this tour when he came through Vegas) that is captured well on screen and, if you’re sitting with the right audience, can actually translate to the movie theater. It’s actually kind of fun watching movies like this in a (not too) crowded theater where you can listen to other people’s reactions; after seeing a few of these concert films you can really appreciate why they do well in a theatrical release.
While the concert scenes are put together well, what doesn’t work is the narrative framing device that both precedes and follows the actual show. Hart starts the movie in a James Bond-like sequence which has him playing a game of poker against some Russian mobsters. I have no idea why they thought that sequence was a good idea. Hart’s likeable as an actor but the material is just lame and feels like a very flimsy excuse to trot in a parade of cameos from some of Hart’s famous friends (Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Ed Helms). It’s too bad because the poorly-written and unfunny intro fails to warm up the crowd. Fortunately, Hart’s able to quickly overcome this negative momentum when he appears on stage.