Typically, summer is the season for giant space ships and costumed superheroes and explosions that are so lovingly reproduced in the theater that you can feel your fillings rattling inside your teeth. It is not, typically, the season for low-budget concert comedy specials. Kevin Hart, whose new concert film “Let Me Explain” opens this week against Disney‘s “The Lone Ranger” (budget: $250 million) and Universal‘s animated “Despicable Me 2” (budget: $76 million), seems to understand this. At the very beginning of his new movie, which lasts a little over an hour, Hart says that he recently saw a Jay-Z/Kanye West concert in which flames erupted out of the stage in giant pillars. He summons similar flames for his show with the magic words, “Let’s get some fire on these bitches.” And the flames come, but those aren’t the only pyrotechnics on display in “Let Me Explain.” Hart, one of the most talented and successful comedians working today, can make you laugh. And laugh hard. In “Let Me Explain,” he’s on fire.
“Let Me Explain” opens with a brief travelogue, chronicling Hart’s latest tour in whirlwind fashion. You see him travel to different parts of the world and it’s somewhat heartening, almost uplifting, to see a black comedian accepted in so many diverse locations. Of course, the schmaltz is implied, never focused on, and you get Hart bickering with his entourage about how much it’ll cost them if they decide to poop on the tour bus. A little of this goes a long way, though, and as funny as Hart is just hanging out, you long (hanker) for him to just get on stage and rip shit up already. (It thankfully doesn’t get bogged in the autobiographical pseudo-documentary stuff that cluttered the opening of his last film, “Laugh At My Pain.”)
As he explains at the beginning of “Let Me Explain,” the purpose for this concert documentary is ostensibly about him “getting some things off my chest.” While “Laugh At My Pain” is arguably funnier (there’s nothing here that will tickle your funny bone like his explanation of his finances in that earlier film), “Let Me Explain” is more real. There’s a moment where he tells a story about stepping out on his lady and thinking that his best guy friend, when quizzed about the incident over speakerphone, will handily lie, knowing that Hart’s girlfriend is listening in. The friend, of course, acknowledges that Hart was out with some broad, and the abject look of terror on his face while he tells this story is something close to magical – comically exaggerated, but so true to life that you can practically feel your face making a similar expression.
Hart is an uncommonly gifted physical comedian, which rarely gets complimented. He doesn’t fall down like Chevy Chase, but he’s able to contort his body into knottier configurations than a mall kiosk pretzel. He’s able to assume the personalities that come with this physicality – his girlfriend, his dumb-ass buddies – with a level of uncanny truth. This is where “Let Me Explain” is so powerfully funny: these stories seem ripped from his life with an almost memoirist amount of detail. In the past when Hart has talked about mistakenly hiring a grizzled ex-con to perform as SpongeBob SquarePants at his daughter’s birthday party, you laughed, probably until you thought you were going to pee your jeans, but it was kind of hard to believe. In “Laugh at My Pain,” it is, as the title suggests, almost painfully real.
Dressed in a reptilian leather top that evokes both stand-up-era Eddie Murphy and some kind of small dinosaur that’s been unleashed from Jurassic Park, Hart cycles through his favorite topics: his ex-wife, his diminutive height, fatherhood. While his material is decidedly R-rated, he has a charming, would-you-believe-this? delivery that is never less than inviting. For some reason, Hart hasn’t gotten the widespread critical acceptance of someone like Louis C.K., whose every comedic movements are fawned over by dudes in dark-rimmed glasses who study jokes like they are complex diagrams for large, seagoing vessels. Hart has been widely accepted by the mainstream and the urban audiences, who make his comedy specials both on and off the big screen a huge event; the fact that serious comedy nerds have yet to fully embrace him seems so acceptable to Hart. They’re just another audience he has to win over, and he is more than up for the challenge.
It makes you appreciate the refreshing rhythms of human speech, considering we’re in a movie season in which dialogue is constantly drowned out by the sound of gunfire, laser-fire, and building-sized explosions. While “Let Me Explain” might be slightly too short for its own good (pun very much intended), it’s still a welcome change of pace and a truly hilarious, heartfelt experience. Kevin Hart is someone who you could see very easily taking over the comedic universes of both stand-up and cinema (where his “Think Like A Man” was a surprise hit), and unlike those that came before him (Murphy, Dave Chappelle), it seems like Hart has a good enough head on his shoulders to be in it for the long haul. No matter the scenario, it’s easy to imagine that Hart will keep bringing the heat. [A-]