Brevity may well be the soul of wit, but that's small consolation when it's $12 a pop for movie tickets.
The material in Kevin Hart's latest stand-up film, Let Me Explain, is riotous enough to stand with the comedian's career-making cable showcases, I'm a Grown Little Man and Seriously Funny. If you were to judge Let Me Explain purely on its performance portion, filmed at Madison Square Garden during Hart's 2012 tour, the film would merit a full extra star. But at 75 minutes, it feels too skimpy to rave over.
To put that in perspective, Let Me Explain is a little longer than Eddie Murphy's Delirious and somewhat shorter than Richard Pryor's Live on the Sunset Strip. But not only is it far briefer than Hart's previous concert package, Feel My Pain, it's also appreciably padded.
Funny? No question about it. In addition to being a superb physical comic, Hart is also an inspired storyteller, mimic, and cartoonish character creator. He sets up and springs his big punch lines with unique precision and timing. Because so much of what Hart does is facial and vocal, he really pops in the close-up medium of film.
The Philadelphia native has always been known for his dizzying, autobiographical approach, and he delves into topics like his divorce ("The one thing you don't want in your house is a woman who doesn't trust you") and "why I will never ride a horse again" during this tightrope walk.
But he's also exaggerating his experiences more than ever before. And the more outrageous the story is (like his account here of his New Jack City behavior after taking ecstasy), the more he insists it actually happened.
Hart's sheer energy, as always, is infectious. And he adds some arena stagecraft here as well, including a funny recurring flourish he claims to have picked up from Jay-Z and Kanye's Watch the Throne tour.
There's also some very acute observational humor in this go-round, which augurs well for Hart's career longevity.
The problem is that the star doesn't hit the spotlights for some time. First, there's a lot of dilatory footage of Hart and his entourage, "the Plastic Cup Boyz," banging around Europe on a tour bus. This consists largely of the comedian standing on cobblestone streets in non-English speaking countries, asking passersby if they know who he is.
There's also an extended prefatory skit set at a "Myx & Mingle" after-party during which Hart takes a raft of grief from a series of aggressive attendees. Funny setup, but it smells distinctly like filler.
You never want a comedy film to start feeling like therapy, where you're mentally computing.
Of course, you'll feel much better after an hour with Kevin Hart than with any analyst. But you may leave this session wishing he'd been slightly more generous with his time.
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Leslie Small and Tim Story. With Kevin Hart, Dwayne Brown, William "Spank" Horton, Na'im Lynn and Harry Ratchford. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.
Running time: 1 hr. 15 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters.