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Kevin Hart: What Now? (review)

In just its opening weekend, Kevin Hart's third concert film already has beaten both the box-office debut of his previous stand-up film, 2013's Let Me Explain, as well as the overall haul from his first such effort, 2011's Laugh at My Pain.

What Now? Indeed.

With $12.6 million and counting in movie ticket grosses, Hart's new 96 minutes of footage (some 70 minutes of stand-up, bookended with sketches imagining Hart with a semi-secret life as a spy) does address the central question that titled both his tour and the film, namely, "What now?"

At the movie's close, Hart sits in a helicopter with Halle Berry (playing a kick-butt version of herself as his accomplice in spying) and suggests that now is the time for him to take his stardom to the global stage. On the physical stage of Lincoln Financial Field, where the comedian performed for 53,000 fans in his hometown of Philadelphia, Hart offers a simpler answer: "I'm alive. I'm still experiencing shit. So I still got shit to talk about."

It's just that his experiences now that he's a bona fide movie star with simultaneous hit mockumentary TV shows and stand-up tours aren't quite as illuminating or as entertaining as the hijinks his fictional characters get himself into onscreen.

Laugh At My Pain remains Hart's high-water mark in terms of both his creativity and vulnerability. Despite all of the fireworks in Let Me Explain or high-tech video accompaniments for a show worthy of a stadium in What Now?

The opening short film, in which Hart imagines himself as a compatriot of James Bond -- complete with a Bond-like theme over the title credits, a code number (Agent 0054) and his introduction to the "villain" as "Hart, Kevin Hart" -- feels bloated at some 15 minutes before we even get to the stand-up comedy. Berry is credited initially as Money Berry, with Ed Helms playing a casino bartender excitedly watching the action at the tables, where Don Cheadle shows his frustration as a rival agent. It's wholly unnecessary and big, much like the show itself. But how many stand-up comedians can say they've headlined a solo performance and sold out a football stadium? Other than Larry the Cable Guy, who played to the University of Nebraska's stadium of fans in 2009, that's about it.

As Hart's Bond villain tells him, "You think you got the world by the balls."

Metaphorically, pretty much.

When you have such a rare opportunity, you make the most of it. And Hart's production team employed so many cameras to capture his stand-up act from the air, from the upper decks of the stadium, and from several positions in the crowd.

At the height of his popularity, Hart's comedy now works best when he brings himself back down to size through embarrassing stories and thoughts -- whether it's hallucinating that a raccoon outside his house is taunting him and preventing him from taking the trash out to the end of the driveway, hearing noises inside the house at night after watching a horror movie ("You do stupid shit when you get scared") or an overeager fan making him feel trapped inside an airport bathroom stall.

Hart also mines his own experiences as a father of two young children for laughs at his own expense and theirs, wishing his kids had edge "because you need edge to survive," only to realize he doesn't have much edge to begin with.

As for his second wife (they married this year, while What Now? filmed in 2015), Hart jokes about only having to lie to her when the true story sounds too unbelievable, illustrated in this set by Hart staying out all night with his friends after an impromptu ping-pong tournament. And he finds himself answering his wife's hypothetical questions by spinning out even crazier examples of freak accidents and animal attacks. "This is how I think. I'm a drastic thinker," Hart tells the crowd.

So we see Hart act out scenes imagining his wife has only one shoulder, or a man with no knees, and wondering what kinds of couples could stick together through those scenarios. He turns a black woman's suspicions into a recurring catchphrase, wherein he repeats the man's assertions, and follows it up with a played-out "Really?!"

For all of his drastic thoughts, though, it's perhaps an odd choice to close out his stand-up set by revealing just how out of touch he must be to make his first ever trip to a Starbucks just now.

Your first time at Starbucks? Really?!

Kevin Hart: What Now? is Rated R (For Some Sexual Material and Language Throughout) and in theaters now.

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