Kevin Hart is a movie star. The box office will tell the tale this year, but I think it’s inevitable. Hart is a carefully engineered show-biz missile at this point, racking up records and carefully cultivating an engaged social media audience that is devoted to him now. He has an everyman appeal that he maintains with a healthy amount of self-deprecation. He doesn’t seem to take things seriously, but that’s because he’s been so very, very serious about defining who he is over the last decade.
“About Last Night” should serve double duty for him in terms of becoming a bankable reliable movie star. First, it gives him a chance to stretch in a supporting role, and he responds by running away with the movie hand-in-hand with Regina Hall, who plays his opposite number in the film, the other half of his ongoing scene-stealing. Second, it’s coming hot on the heels of his “surprise” box-office hit “Ride Along,” and the audience is ready. While I don’t think things were carefully calculated in terms of timing up front, the end result is a very smart push for Hart at a moment when there is a fair amount of attention being paid to him.
He was in “Grudge Match” this past Christmas, and while I didn’t think the film worked very well, Hart was paired in most of his scenes with Alan Arkin, and the result is a genuine comic back and forth between the two of them. Arkin’s a legend for good reason, and watching Hart get in the ring and spar a few rounds with him felt appropriate considering the film. His last concert film, “Let Me Explain,” is a very canny record of the live event, even if I don’t think the framework is very good. If you’re a fan of Hart’s work, then all of this is part of this continuum that feels like he’s picking up steam. It feels like if you put Hart in the right film right now, the sky’s the limit for how big the audience is. He’s been smart about touring outside of the United States so he can start to challenge the old-school thinking of film financing that you can’t sell a black American star in the international marketplace. Hart can use his own touring success to help build an audience that actively seeks out each new thing he does, and he can keep it all coordinated online.
Honestly, this is what 21st century stardom looks like. It’s running a corporation, with the artist as a product that the corporation manages. Part of what happens when a guy like Hart becomes famous is that people who haven’t even seen his work are aware of him now. My kids, for example, have yet to see Kevin Hart in anything, and when we went to do some interviews for the film recently, it was right down the street from where we had just seen “The Lego Movie.” I wouldn’t normally think to take them along to listen in on interviews about a film based on a play that broke ground in terms of sexually explicit language when first performed in the ’70s that stars a comedian who uses the word “fuck” the way chefs use salt, but it just sorta worked out that way.
I was warned that Kevin was working blue (and that Regina Hall was holding her own), and so I explained the situation to the boys. We walked into the room to do the interview, and both Kevin and Regina looked over and lit up.
“Kids!” Kevin yelled. “Alright! We’ve got some kids in to talk.” Regina started laughing as they both introduced themselves to the boys.
“Alright, guys,” I said. “What do we do when Kevin Hart is in the room?”
On cue, they both sat down and clapped their hands over their ears. Perfectly synchronized.
So the interview you’ll see here began about three minutes later after Kevin stopped laughing and after Regina stopped laughing at how hard he was laughing. It was a great way to break the ice so we could talk, certainly, and I’d definitely recommend that you check out the film if you get the chance.
“About Last Night” opens everywhere on Friday.