If his stage act is any indication, tightwad Kevin Hart was checking ticket sales all weekend long when “Laugh at My Pain” opened — over $20,000 per screen, 97 screens — a $2 million opening weekend.
“Laugh at My Pain” has the hallmarks of a vanity project — Hart leading a camera crew through “the old neighborhood” (Philadelphia), Hart including a short film, a comic remake of “Reservoir Dogs” featuring a bunch of his friends and Taraji P. Henson. But “Laugh at My Pain” is still an amusing 80 or so minutes at the movies. When he’s onstage, a bundle of manic energy, funny voices, simple props, catch-phrases and shtick, Hart delivers. His is a stand-up act built on classic comic underpinnings — family, sexual inadequacy and repetition, aka “running gags.”
The man-on-the-street prologue has the 5 foot 5 inch Hart reveling in his high school sports glories. Friends from those days like Adam back him up.
“Was I good or not?”
He stares into school trophy cases, not seeing his name listed. He joshes around with his public pool swim coaches (their story was told in the movie “Pride”) and brushes off the “famous alumni” poster at his high school, which has Will Smith, front and center, but doesn’t include him.
He gets choked up as he rounds up his family for a reunion — “Thank you for the upbringing.”
And then he rides that tiny elevator up onto the stage and proceeds to kill. He jokes about the high flying lifestyle of a celebrity, and the hard financial lessons he’s learned.
“Stay in your lane.” Don’t try to hang with people with mountains of cash who have no concern about spending it. Spending with jocks at Vegas? He can’t. “I’m not gonna lie,” he says, one of his favorite phrases. “I got the bill. I didn’t like it.”
A running gag — his way of begging off doing something expensive. “Listen, the way my bank account is set up…” It’s what kept Dwayne Wade from talking Hart into buying a boat.
He roars through a botched Sponge Bob birthday party for his daughter, the insanity of buying her a puppy and not realizing what a pit bull is, his “crazy cokehead” father’s various indiscretions. “I cannot make this up,” he begins many stories. And to back that up, his dad shows up in a closing sketch, verifying the various routines to Larry King, no less.
Dad took him to school functions in sweat pants with no underwear. Dad, who loved “the booger sugar (cocaine)” would roar into spelling bees bellowing “Awright awright Awwwwww-riiiiiiiiiight,” seizing attention and showing off his sweatpants with no underwear.
Hart is less at home with the structured “Plastic Cup Boyz” short film (directed by Tim Story), a Tarantino knock-off that isn’t nearly as funny as the stand-up material. And his messing around with structure (much of the funniest off-the-cuff stuff is in the opening and closing credits) means that the film flails about, with us never quite sure it’s begun and not at all certain that it has ended.
Like a lot of comics, Hart has taken the petty grievances and big pains of his childhood and turned them into stand-up fodder that is funny, familiar and biting. Ten years after breaking into show business, he’s a little old and a little familiar to be “discovered” now. But if “Laugh at My Pain” makes people take a second look at this perpetual third banana on the big screen, so much the better.
MPAA Rating:R for sexual content and pervasive language
Cast: Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Henry Witherspoon, Larry King.
Credits: Directed by Leslie Small, co-directed by Hart, short film “The Plastic Cup Boyz” directed by Tim Story.
An AM Theaters/Hartbeat Productions release. Running time: 1: 28