(2013)2.5Jason BuchananA rising young talent with notable credits in film and television, Kevin Hart should be a happy guy. But sometimes fame isn't all it's cracked up to be, and now, on the heels of three standup-comedy specials, he is beginning to see the harsher side of success. Accused by fans of turning his back on dark-skinned women, forgetting the little people, and having limited appeal during the course of his Brooklyn mix-and-mingle, Hart's repeated attempts to tell the truth about his situation have fallen on deaf ears, prompting him to book a gig at Madison Square Garden in a bid to air out his own dirty laundry. The result is Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, a high-energy standup performance in which no one is safe and nothing is off-limits -- including the diminutive comic himself.
An evolving art form over the past few decades, the standup-comedy film has been honed to a fine point by such legendary performers as Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy -- the latter's legacy still looms large over contemporary comics, as evidenced by an offhanded put-down early in the movie. By staging such an elaborate setup, Hart attempts to put his own unique stamp on this well-worn comedy subgenre, though ultimately it seems like defensive padding as he strives to verify his worldly status with performance clips from all across Europe. Just when it all starts to feel a little too much like bluster, however, Hart does something that makes Let Me Explain truly unique -- at least to this generation. By detailing the role that YouTube played in his rising popularity, the quick-to-smile comic reveals how "going viral" helped him to break out and become a star on his own terms. It's a unique twist to a familiar tale, and an ideal lead-in to a fearlessly unguarded routine.
Once Hart takes the stage before a sold-out MSG crowd, he wastes no time getting personal. His search for happiness, his divorce, his DUI, his hideous feet -- no topic is off limits as he offers a unique blend of blunt observational humor and patent absurdity. True, his topics aren't always the most original -- angry black women, unreliable friends, and the foibles of marriage have all been standup fodder since the first comic stood before a faux-brick wall -- but Hart's physicality and unique perspective go a long way in adding some freshness to these overly familiar targets. He also has a knack for bringing a joke full circle when appropriate, as evidenced in a bit concerning his clueless best friend, though in that instance in particular his repeated use of "help me!" begins to feel like a strained bid to launch a new catchphrase.
Hart's greatest strength as a standup comic, meanwhile, is pacing his own material. Gradually drifting from the personal issues that open the act, he begins to hit his stride around the halfway mark. At this point all bets are off, and whether reminiscing about a bizarre experience on Ecstasy, his fear of bums' hands, the perils of brawling with a "stimulated" foe, or his overprotective bodyguards, Hart smartly saves his most outrageous material for the final push. If you're not laughing at this point, perhaps his particular brand of comedy simply isn't for you. Even if that's the case, however, you'd be hard-pressed to deny his sincere appreciation for his fans, as evidenced by his tearful farewell at the end of the performance. It's a refreshing change of pace in an occupation that's frequently dominated by swagger, and a strong reminder of what can be accomplished when you simply let your guard down and go for it.