In what should be the pinnacle of an unprecedented career, Kevin Hart: What Now? finds the comedy superstar squarely within the boundaries of his comfort zone.
What Now? documents Kevin Hart’s record-breaking show at Lincoln Financial Field in August 2015--the first comedy show to ever sell out a football stadium, and Hart’s first special from his native Philadelphia. It’s the culmination of a staggering rise that has taken Hart from the city’s club scene to possibly the biggest homecoming show imaginable. As the tagline for What Now? boldly declares, Hart’s headlining stadium show is no less than “the comedy event that made history.”
What Now? makes it clear that Hart is fully aware of his status as one of the most powerful comedians in the industry, and he is not shy about flaunting his own success. The film opens with a slickly produced James Bond parody, starring none other than actual Bond Girl Halle Berry as Hart’s love interest. Things only get bigger from there, with cameos from stars Don Cheadle and Ed Helms, before Hart even steps on stage for his record-breaking stadium show in front of 53,000 fans.
Hart has every right to brag about his accomplishments as an entertainer and businessman. What Now? wastes no time keying its audience into Hart’s reported $4 million gross for the show, part of the even bigger What Now? arena tour which broke all-time comedy records before it even began. He’ll make even more money with the release of this film, which follows 2013’s Let Me Explain, his last special, which brought him close to all-time box-office records set by comedy legends like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. It’s just one extension of Hart’s growing media empire. This year alone, he released the hit films Ride Along 2 and Central Intelligence, the fifth season of his BET sitcom Real Husbands of Hollywood, and even a What Now? mixtape that dropped alongside the new film. At this point, Hart is operating on a scale that is simply unprecedented for modern comedy.
In his live act, however, the famously restless performer is surprisingly restrained when it comes to talking about his growing fame and wealth. With the exception of several offhand mentions to private schools and his new L.A. mansion and one bit about running into a crazed fan at the airport bathroom, Hart has chosen largely to avoid discussing the effects of his recent career success in this new material. While contemporaries like Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari have used their post-fame comedy specials to speak about the anxieties and curiosities that have come with their newfound celebrity, Hart’s interests rarely extend beyond the confines of his own home. In What Now?, Hart continues the approach that made him a superstar--relatable storytelling grounded in his small, slightly absurdist observations about family, relationships, and domestic life. In its best moments, What Now? manages the rare trick of bridging the intimacy of Hart’s earlier specials with the pop spectacle of a stadium show.
Where Hart stumbles compared to his earlier specials, however, is his inability to dig much deeper beyond the surface of his personal life. While Hart has never been a particularly vulnerable comedian, he has in previous specials dealt with some difficult topics: growing up in a struggling single parent household in Philadelphia, his father’s battles with drug addiction, his messy divorce with ex-wife Torrei Hart. Now newly remarried and returning to his hometown having already conquered the comedy world, it’s understandable why Hart might want to leave the past behind him. But for someone who has built his brand on sharing the intimate details of his personal life, the person behind the Kevin Hart empire is left relatively unexamined.
This person briefly emerges at the end of the film, when Halle Berry asks the question that gives the special its name--what now? For a moment there, the question seems to genuinely shake Hart’s confidence. What’s left to accomplish after reaching seemingly every milestone imaginable for a comedian? But Kevin Hart the businessman quickly reemerges, and he says, “It’s time to show people on a global level just how funny Kevin Hart really is.”
But before the next step of his journey toward global domination, perhaps Kevin Hart might want to step back and examine just where he’s coming from.