“Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain” essentially repackages one of the comedian’s sold-out stand-up sets at Madison Square Garden, so there’s an understandable compulsion to want to dislike the movie. It feels like a shameless cash grab, especially in light of the fact that, as the film helpfully relays, Hart greeted capacity crowds at huge concert halls everywhere from Oslo to Vancouver during his 2012 tour. What’s next? A Kevin Hart action figure — a tiny plastic doppelganger holding a microphone and shouting obscenities at the push of a button?
And yet, there’s a reason for all the ticket sales (not to mention the movie roles, “Saturday Night Live” hosting duties and “Real Husbands of Hollywood” gig): Hart is difficult to dislike. Diminutive and energetic, he exudes comedy with every spirited step and elaborate gesture. He’s hilarious, but almost as important, he’s self-aware enough to joke about his own shortcomings, which makes appreciating “Let Me Explain” so much easier.
As an appetizer to his stand-up set, the movie starts with a fictional scene in which Hart throws a big party. But instead of enjoying the evening, the comic is met with a steady stream of outlandish questions stemming from Hollywood gossip. That’s the idea behind “Let Me Explain”: Hart is here to set the record straight. The nasty divorce? It was amicable. His aversion to dark-skinned women? A myth. But just when it starts sounding like Hart is preparing to saddle up his high horse, he admits that the drunken driving arrest did in fact happen, and there’s no good way to talk his way out of that one.
He paints a similar portrait with footage from his European tour. There are plenty of screaming, crying fans, but the second the movie begins to drift into navel-gazing, the camera captures people who have no earthly clue who Hart is. Or, worse, people who say his best work was in “Soul Plane.”
The routine itself is fast-paced and mischievously funny, provided you have a high threshold for vulgarity. The stage seems set for a rock star, with Hart’s name spelled in bright lights behind intermittent blazes of fire. Exploding onto the scene in a black leather shirt, Hart dives into his dirty laundry, airing details about his divorce and confessing to a propensity for telling lies.
According to an interview with Ebony magazine, Hart doesn’t joke about homosexuality, but nothing else appears to be off the table. He keeps the audience laughing with increasingly outrageous explanations, making a case for everything from cheating on his wife to getting his best friend to lie for him. It’s all in the name of comedy, and it mostly works, with a couple of exceptions, including an especially mean-spirited and somewhat violent tirade against a fan he met in an airport.
Watching the show on-screen doesn’t have the same kinetic feel of being in the audience of a live show, but it’s certainly easier on the wallet. It will be good for Hart’s bank account, too, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
R. At area theaters. Contains obscene language including sexual references. 75 minutes.