One of the pleasures of last year's underrated comedy "Think Like a Man" was stand-up comedian Kevin Hart as Cedric, a recent divorcé with pent-up sexual energy but not much game. A 5-foot-5 ball of energy, Hart sprang around like a windup toy and yammered like an over-caffeinated Chris Tucker. The role was a stock character, but Hart used it to steal his every scene.
That was many viewers' first sighting of Hart, but the 33-year-old comic has built a sizable following with tours, television appearances and a YouTube channel. (He is also the tiny hero of a gaming app, Little Jumpman.) Last November, Hart scored a professional triumph by playing two shows on a Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Those became the basis for his new performance film, "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain."
The movie, which reteams Hart with his "Think Like a Man" director, Tim Story, should be another chance for Hart to shine. Instead, it mostly wants to convince us that the comedian is already a success. It features testimony from far-flung fans in Oslo and London -- "Amazing! Awesome!" -- and includes frequent shots of howling audience members. A staged opening sequence portrays Hart as a misunderstood celebrity who books the Garden on a moment's notice to "explain" himself. That conceit puffs Hart up while inadvertently diminishing his hard-won achievement of playing a large venue.
The self-aggrandizement makes it harder to overlook Hart's random, disjointed material. He begins by admitting he's a philanderer (Hart is recently divorced in real life), which undercuts his next routine, about crazy women who see evidence of cheating everywhere. Other subjects, like Hart's Spider-Man-obsessed son, an ecstasy trip and a creepy horse whisperer, seem almost chosen by lottery. The laughs come fitfully.
The best standups create a distinct persona: a cocksure Eddie Murphy, a bemused Jerry Seinfeld, a zonked Mitch Hedberg. "Let Me Explain" presents a successful Kevin Hart. Somehow, that doesn't quite cut it.
PLOT The stand-up comedian performs at Madison Square Garden.
RATING R (language, sexual humor, drug references)
BOTTOM LINE Any comic who can play the Garden must be good, but you wouldn't know it from this jumble of random routines and on-the-bus footage.