There appears to be somewhat of a trend developing amongst Hollywood actors, and that is playing a version of themselves on screen. One of those obvious examples would be 1999’s Being John Malkovich, but more recently we saw Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, having a lot of fun at his own expense.
Now we can add the name Kevin Hart to that growing list, as he plays himself in this comedy.
Kevin Hart (Hart) has had enough of playing funny. More to the point, he’s had enough of playing funny as Dwayne Johnson’s comedy side kick.
Now he pines for a new challenge, to be seen as the next big little action hero. It’s a direction no one expected, including his manager, but when the famous action director Claude Van De Velde (Jean Reno) learns of Hart’s ambitions, he decides to give him a shot, but only if he enrols in The Action Star school, run by Ron Wilcox (John Travolta). There, and only there, will Hart be assessed to see if he truly has what it takes to be an action hero on the big screen.
Most comedians have an in built ability to never take themselves that seriously, so you can see the appeal of this to Hart, who had already taken this role on in a trial run, in bite-sized episodes in 2020.
And it proves to be a case of the concept being funnier than the execution.
Although a school for how to become an action hero sounds fun, the film struggles to keep the gag going. It’s certainly hindered by only having a class of two, Hart and British actress Nathalie Emmanuel; with only one other character in the same boat as him to bounce off of, it limits what Hart can do with the character. You get the impression the director Eric Appel noticed this about halfway through, as a new character is added, and although a good, one, it’s too little too late.
It also feels as if it could have benefitted with someone with a stronger grasp of comedy in the role of Wilcox; Travolta is fine, but he isn’t the best comic foil for Hart and his shtick.
It also comes across as a half-hearted attempt to dabble with the meta concept, and it really could have done with pushing it a lot further.
Still, Hart is certainly engaging playing himself, and at least he’s not afraid to poke fun in his own direction, with a number of amusing lines.
And Emmanuel is very watchable as his fellow student, in a role that really does showcase how versatile she is.
But as the series - which not only has the same premise as the film, but also the identical cast - had episodes that didn’t last longer than eight minutes, this film, clocking in at nearly two hours long, is a bit like a comic on stage who outstays their welcome, and doesn’t realise that they’re actually dying on their feet.
Not that hart needs to worry much, as he not only has a lot of fingers in a number of business ventures, he can always hit up his old pal Johnson to be his side kick once more. Now that’s being meta for you.