Once you get past an incredibly self-indulgent intro — an uncomfortably long mash-up of comedy sketch and road-trip-with-entourage doc that seems simultaneously apologetic and arrogant — you can enjoy approximately an hour of boisterously freewheeling and unabashedly raunchy funny stuff in “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain.” A record of the standup comic’s performance before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, this slickly produced concert pic grossed an impressive $17.5 million in its opening stretch, improving on Hart’s successful “Laugh at My Pain” from 2011. Still, even hardcore fans may object to enduring footage that is, by and large, mere filler.
Onstage at MSG, Hart strikes the perfect balance of strutting bantam cock and skittish fraidy-cat, prowling about the stage with an expressive physicality reminiscent of a young Richard Pryor, and blowtorching through extended anecdotes in his trademark rat-a-tat style. And while some of his act may consist of too-familiar ranting about “bitches” and their oppressive demands, Hart neatly deflects charges of misogyny through his willingness — nay, his eagerness — to more often than not make himself the butt of his jokes.
Speaking self-deprecatingly of his recent divorce, Hart freely admits that his infidelities were a prime deal-breaker. (Worse, he adds, his clueless best buddy didn’t provide an alibi when it really counted.) Elsewhere, he cops to being a reflexive, pathological liar, cuing a rivetingly hilarious riff in which he describes an elaborately contrived excuse — involving a baby with “Benjamin Button disease” and a deer-zebra hybrid known, of course, as a “deerbra” — for showing up late to work.
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Hart even mocks his own set-decoration excess, noting that he has rising jets of “pointless fire” onstage only because he saw Jay Z and Kanye West offer similarly pyrotechnical shtick.
And speaking of pointless: The opening sequence — which takes up more than 15 minutes of the 75-minute pic — plays like a celebratory infomercial designed to let people know that, despite his only-human failings, Kevin Hart is some kind of spectacularly inventive and world-famous entertainer. But, really, wouldn’t anyone who buys a ticket, or pays a downstreaming fee, or purchases the DVD already know that?
On the other hand, movie buffs may appreciate the footage, visible during the closing credits, of Hart wearing an “Easy Rider” T-shirt emblazoned with an image of Peter Fonda’s Captain America. Maybe Hart sees himself as an entertainer in the same outlaw tradition?