One of the more interesting things about this week’s slate of films, other than being the first weekend of 2014 that looks like it’s worth a damn when it comes to film, is that of the emerging presence of Kevin Hart. Hart, one of the best standups currently working, has been working to move into film for some time. 2014 looks to be a year in which he could vault a lot of current comic actors into a much higher level, with two other films he’s in headlining roles in. He’s this year’s Jude Law 2004, an actor with a number of high profile roles in one calendar year that could make (or break) his career if they go a certain way.
But that’s not the most interesting thing about Hart’s 2014, potentially at least. Hart is trying to make the leap that few stand up comics have been able to do for some time: from full time, headlining standup to full time, headlining comedic actor.
Hart’s standup career has been something remarkable as he’s been able to become something special when it comes to that particular aspect of his career. He’s been able to release his own stand up specials in theaters, something few comics are able to do anymore. Most times they go to cable television or HBO, which has been a staple of stand up since cable television’s rise to prominence. Comedy Central has made a fortune, and comics have made careers, from the various stand up specials that grace the company’s airwaves. DVD has been a boon, as well, but the cinema has been largely bereft of films of stand up comedians doing a live show.
Even Dane Cook, perhaps the biggest draw on the stand up tour, hasn’t tried to make that attempt and Hart has made two profitable stabs at making a stand up film. It’s something that rarely happened even when stand up comedy was at its highest apex, the ’80s, and it stands to reason that most comics would rather take their chances with a guaranteed payday and the solid audience size of the small screen than risk the pratfalls of potentially failing on the big screen. But Hart is doing something special with his career; he’s looking to try and pull the Eddie Murphy.
Murphy famously started out as a stand up and transitioned from being terrific at that to being the biggest movie star in the world, with a legendary stop at Saturday Night Live in between. Hart isn’t getting anywhere near those heights, as Murphy was a once in a generation phenom that hit the right roles at the right time, but he did provide a pathway for stand up comics to leave the club world behind and become better known for being actors.
It’s interesting because few comics try to do this anymore. And I’m talking comics, not comedians, as there’s a difference. Plenty of actors who are good with comedy never go through the stand up circuit, which is a whole other beast than the circuit for funny people who want to act. It’s rare for comics to want to transition fully into acting, as the money isn’t nearly as good going from being a headliner at a club to being the 4th lead on up in a film. It’s easier (and probably more rewarding) for someone like Bill Burr to take a small role in Breaking Bad, or to show up randomly in a couple of films in blink and you miss it roles, and to spend the rest of the year on the road.
Hart is slowly working his way into starring roles and Ride Along is a big one because it’s poised to potentially be his breakout role. This is a film that’s bounced around from a number of directors and actors, at one point being positioned as a reuniting between Pete Berg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Seann William Scott after their successful partnership on The Rundown. Ride Along has been a film that’s had so many people attached to it that it’s not all that shocking it wound up with Ice Cube, Hart and a January release date.
This is a film that doesn’t have huge expectations coming in, and one imagines that it has the budget to match, but it has all the look of a film that finds an audience in the winter. If Kevin James can find a career out of Paul Blart at the same time of year, and Liam Neeson as an action hero with Taken as well, maybe Kevin Hart could vault from one of the best stand up comics out there to a high profile comedy actor?
It’s insanely difficult and if he does Hart will have pulled something few have: the Eddie Murphy.
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This week’s DVD – Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Since we’re talking about Kevin Hart this week, why not explore his last stand up film?
Hart is filmed both on tour internationally as well as for a performance at Madison Square Garden. I reviewed it right here and it holds up fairly well. It’s a good, not great, film but it’s a tremendous stand up performance. Read the review for a more thorough analysis.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
Devil’s Due – Rosemary’s Baby but found footage style.
Skip it – It’s a horror film in January, odds are it’s going to be awful.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – A relaunch of the Jack Ryan franchise, this time with Ryan as a young CIA analyst.
See it - Great cast and Chris Pine is slowly turning into something special with a franchise.
The Nut Job – An animated heist film about nuts? I haven’t seen much beyond a pair of 30 second spots.
Skip it – Haven’t seen enough previews, et al, to merit any recommendation. With animated fare that usually means it’s awful.
Ride Along – Kevin Hart wants to marry Ice Cube’s sister. To win his blessing he’ll need to prove himself on the ride along from hell.
See it – This is make or break for Hart and I can see this becoming a hit for him.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .