I was one of the few critics to bother checking out Kevin Hart’s theatrical comedy concert film “Laugh at My Pain” when it opened back in 2011.
He was already a veteran bit player, comic support on TV (Judd Apatow’s “Undeclared”), and movies (“Fool’s Gold,” “40 Year Old Virgin,” “Soul Plane”), so I knew who he was — a reliable laugh in “little man” form. But this stand-up special/theatrical release was blowing up and kind of out of nowhere, so I dropped in.
He jump-started his career with that hilarious doc, and I made it a point to review all his other concert docs that followed — watching his Hollywood profile grow with feature comedies in between tours, seeing the “Yeah, I’m spending money on fire effects for a comedy concert — I’ve sold out!” arc of his fame.
He’s spread himself Steve Harvey thin in the ensuing decade — doing TV, a Sirius/XM and streaming comedy chat show with his crew, and “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man” big screen hits, buddy comedies galore (“Get Hard,””The Wedding Ringer,””Central Intelligence”).
Then he hit his peak, and hit a brick wall at the same time. It was 2018, and here he was, a superstar about to host the Oscars, when it all came down on him — homophobic stand-up bits, homophobic tweets.The Oscar gig disappears, and that announced plan to remake the urban comedy classic “Uptown Saturday Night?” A movie he was using his clout to create? Stillborn, or in turnaround. Not happening. Yet.
His recent marquee comedies? “Night School?” Underperformed. “The Upside” buddy comedy with Brian Cranston did well. A remake of “The Great Outdoors” is in the works, but he’s more an ensemble guy, now. “Jumanji” is rebuilding his brand. And he has a LOT of TV series he’s sticking his name on.
If the “angry little man” wants to re-launch himself proper, it’s no shock that he’d take a shot at doing it via a “my side of the story” documentary series for Netflix. It’s not the sort of thing I’d burn a lot of time on, but noticing all the hits an old blog entry on him announcing “Uptown Saturday Night” as his next project, I was curious, like the people visiting that link.
What’s the status of that project? And what’s Hart doing to tidy up his image, after his very public “family man” image meltdown, his refusal to apologize about the old tweets and one-liners?
“Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up” offers no apologies, despite his publicist urging “humility,” and no real update on “Uptown.” The series catches Hart at that pre-Oscar/mid-“Irresponsible” tour peak — 2018.
We see him meet and try to talk somebody PRETTY famous into co-starring in “Uptown Saturday Night” with him.
“He’s a f—–g thespian!” Hart jokes, as he’s given the “I have to go away and think about it” brush off.
We see and hear him recording his voice track for “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” watch him multi-task to the point of distraction, maybe neglecting his family because of how driven he is to do it all, manage it all and get filthy rich while the iron is hot.
We hear him talk about his college-educated single mom, the driving inspiration in his life and career, and the fences he’s mended with his recovering-addict father. His mother died, and his dad’s behavior after that glibly made it into his stand-up. But there’s earnest emotion in his fervent desire to please the parent no longer around.
“Look at your boy! See what he did!”
We watch the wife (Eniko) Hart’s assured us is “not a homewrecker” come to tears over the “very public humiliation” of him cheating on her the way he once cheated with her while still married to his first wife. Hart spins that as best he can.
And we see the bad car wreck that he had to recover from to get the full slate of films and TV productions he has on his plate back up and in the works.
The effect of it all is a lot like his decreasingly funny stand-up films. It’s all about spin, polish and flashing wealth — the AMG Mercedes, the selfies with fans gassing up his Ferrari. He’s pushing the idea of how “hungry” he still is, but like his “version” of this and Eniko’s spotlight moments of truth, it all feels focus-grouped and safe.
He’s never been an unlikable presence, but when he justifies his manic money-making juggling as “I’m doing this for you guys,” I just don’t believe him. It’s an ego thing. It’s as sincere as everything else in “Don’t F**k This Up,” as sincere and heartfelt as his non-apology/apologiesduring the Oscars dust-up.
His publicist, Haley Hileman, was never able to get him to “take a humility pill.” His sudden fall didn’t cost him much, not like the car-wreck that he spends much of this series recovering from. But it’s still a good reason why the more we see of him, in person and out of “character,” the less likable he seems.
And the victimhood card he whipped out then, the “struggle” he plays up in all this affluence and success, isn’t a good look. It just isn’t.
Comics are stereotypically needy, damaged souls — and the big ones can be awfully prickly, so he’s not alone in this. Every entertainment journalist has “good Seinfeld” and “bad Seinfeld” interview stories.
But if he’s not doing a real “mea culpa” here, if he’s as insincere as he often comes off, then what is the point? This is six episodes of Hart insincerely trying to convince us of how sincere and humbled he is.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, drug abuse discussed, profanity
Cast: Kevin Hart, Eniko Hart
Credits: A Netflix series (six episodes and counting?)
Running time: @31 minutes each.