Movie Review: "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain"
-- Rating: R (Language)
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2013
Directed by: Leslie Small, Tim Story
Stars: 3 out of 5
Any movie that takes the form of a stand-up comedy special is going to have a certain pattern imposed on it. The successful annual comedy tour that's capped off by a singular performance in front of a sold out crowd in a world-class venue is a pattern that was pioneered by the likes of George Carlin and Louis CK in a series of performances dating back to the 1980s. As a genre, the stand-up comedy movie has actually developed less than almost any other form. It would be perhaps too easy to assume that this is because the style achieved perfection as far back as 1990, but it is most likely a result of the restrictions imposed on the genre by its very material. After all, there are only so many ways to dress and light a stage, as there are only so many ways to introduce a comedian. Most of the really original ideas for presentation were hit upon by the time Robin Williams released "Live at the Met."
This restricting form, and lack of flexibility, hasn't noticeably damaged the genre. The comedy emphasis, far more so than in any other genre, has always been on the content and the delivery unique to that one performer. Essentially, the window dressing doesn't have to change, as the material is in constant flux, and fresh is the name of the game.
In "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain," the title character tries something new. For almost the first time in decades, a successful comedian has tinkered with the basic form of the stand-up movie. Where in the past, a comedian would either come right out on stage after only a brief introduction, or at most after a short skit, fully half of "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" consists of the opening skit. Either the concept of "opening comedy skit" has been stretched out to cover far more of the film's runtime than ever before, or else Kevin Hart has broken with convention and is now pursuing something entirely new in the genre. It is through this sort of experiment that progress is always made in the arts, which makes "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" especially interesting as a specimen.
The first part of "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" features only a hint of the stand-up to come, featuring instead a retrospective on Hart's fan base and a somewhat drawn-out short story in film that stars Hart, seven other actors who are identified as Plastic Cup Boyz,-the meaning of which is clear on viewing-and a number of actresses who are identified in the credits as either Dark Skin Sister or Light Skin Sister. The opening segment of the movie seems heavily influenced by Hart's extensive work in television, with a special emphasis on storytelling and narrative development that's totally unexpected in a comedy show.
The second part of "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" is by far the more conventional of the two. This section, which spans the last thirty minutes of the show, is an absolutely straightforward stand-up routine. Every element is there, from the oddly dressed, brightly lit background to the equally oddly dressed performer himself, this time wearing what looks like a shiny black jumpsuit. Hart's jokes-as is the case for any comedian-are thoroughly spoiled by repetition, so they will be left to the viewer to judge.
It is worth noting that the actual stand-up part of the movie was filmed at a live performance in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden. For a comedian to pack this venue to the rafters, as Hart has clearly done here, has traditionally been the crown jewel in the career of a stand-up comedian. Hart seems as comfortable on the stage as another man might be in his own living room; a reflection, perhaps, of Hart's more than twenty years in the business and the ease that comes with it.
The stage is well lit and wired for sound, which eliminates distracting technical considerations for the second half of the film. The first part is the more complex, from a technical standpoint, and it is carried off with the skill that's to be expected from a team of experienced filmmakers such as the ones Hart has surrounded himself with.
Experiments are always risky, and those who experiment with their very bread and butter are to be congratulated for bravely showing the way forward for younger filmmakers. "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" has the distinction of breathing new life into an old and established genre. It isn't possible to predict whether this is going to be a footnote to the stand-up form, or the start of something entirely new. Either way, it bears watching.