The comedy concert genre is a small one, and strictly speaking its entries are pretty hard to quantify as proper “movies.” Generally it’s a one-man or one-woman show that just happened to be filmed and screened in movie theaters, often padded for time with sketch material or some sort of framing device. They don’t have a story arc to speak of, nobody grows or learns a valuable (or terrible) lesson, and so the typical rules of film criticism no longer apply. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain doesn’t have characters I can empathize with, a narrative to become involved in, or a theme that can piss me off or make me feel satisfied. This is Kevin Hart, on stage, telling jokes. Luckily he’s pretty funny.
The star of Soul Plane, an admittedly bad comedy that suffers a handful of cheap shots at the beginning of Let Me Explain, is a confident stage presence with a fair share of noticeable hang-ups. Typically his sets contain jokes about his height (5’2” if the internet is to be believed), his kids’ foibles and the ways in which women and men are different. Did you ever notice that generally speaking, men and women behave differently due to various physical and sociological influences? Kevin Hart has. So have most comedians, but Kevin Hart at least mines this apparent altruism for some funny jokes in Let Me Explain about relationship anxiety, cheating on his wife and those apparently rare occasions when men get to gloat after being falsely accused of misdoing.
(Look, jokes just aren’t funny when they’re being explained, but suffice it to say, they seem a lot wittier when Kevin Hart puffs all the generalizations up a bit.)
He’s also very upfront about his kids’ annoying or strange behavior, which I suspect might bite him on the ass one day when those kids grow up and all their friends can see their dad make fun of their dirty laundry on Netflix Instant Streaming. I suppose most comedians, if they have a confessional enough attitude, run into those problems eventually, but I digress.
Unfortunately, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain can’t rely on Hart’s stage show for the whole running time. The film is barely theatrical length as it is, even with an opening narrative segment and documentary footage about his world tour. Let Me Explain begins with Kevin Hart throwing a party, and then being accused of losing touch with his roots, being responsible for his divorce and, for some reason, only performing shows in America.
Actually, strike that… There is a reason, and it’s just because Let Me Explain has an obvious rebuttal to this obviously spurious claim. Hart answers many (but confusingly not all) of his accusers within his stand-up routine, and allows the self-serving and thankfully brief documentary about his world travels to prove that, yes, indeed, he has travelled the world. And that he is apparently awesome. I guess the makers of Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain were worried that audiences who paid good hard cash to see Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain needed to find out who Kevin Hart was, and that he’s successful enough to warrant a theatrical comedy concert film. So they brag about his YouTube Channel, which I’m not sure is such a good idea. “Hey folks, you could have seen Kevin Hart for free, like most people do. Thanks for your money.”
It would be fine if all this padding served a purpose, or was at least funny enough to warrant the upgrade from DVD Extra limbo, but the scripted material is unpolished and the documentary material would make for a limp electronic press kit. Kevin Hart proves in Let Me Explain that he knows how to make pointless filler seem pointed: he punctuates his stage performance by occasionally calling forth a great wall of fire behind him. He calls it “pointless fire,” but it lends his performance a degree of self-aware showmanship that the opening of this film so desperately, desperately needed.
On home video, you will fast forward through this opening sequence and just get to the very funny stand-up routine behind it, and you will have a very good time. If you just plain like Kevin Hart and his comedy stylings, you’ll probably be willing to sit through it long enough in a theater to get to all the good stuff. And that stuff is, thankfully, quite good. It’s not legendarily brilliant, but it’s very funny and worth seeing at some point if you’re a fan stand-up comedy, and obviously Kevin Hart. This may not work as a “movie” in any conventional sense, but at least it’s a reasonably entertaining one-man show.