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I’m pretty sure Kevin Hart is messing with us in ‘True Story’ on Netflix


I’m pretty sure Kevin Hart is messing with us in ‘True Story’ on Netflix

Kevin Hart is messing with us.

That’s the only conclusion I can draw after watching True Story, the new Netflix limited series starring Hart and Wesley Snipes from Narcos writer Eric Newman. The seven-episode journey starts out on a meta note and then, quite insidiously, only gets to be more meta as the story plays out. Is this intentional? Is Hart somehow telling on himself?

The meta-ness is in the details. Hart stars as the Kid, a Philadelphia-born blockbuster comedian who is big enough to sell out Philly’s Wells Fargo Center and be a returning Ellen guest. So far, so Hart: He’s got the same hometown and high profile, at the very least.

The actor’s life diverges sharply from the character’s (we hope) when Kid wakes up one morning with a dead escort lying next to him in bed. His recently resurfaced brother Carlton (Snipes) arranged the encounter, and it’s Carlton, with his vague-yet-troubled history and his connections to the criminal underworld, who Kid turns to for help cleaning up his mess.

Things only get darker from there, with the story spiraling in wild directions as the brothers try to keep what happened under wraps. But it’s like that classic comedy bit where a character plugs a leak with their finger only for another one to spring up. And then another. And then another. Every episode of True Story introduces a new leak that immediately threatens to bring Kid and Carlton down.

Like I said, though: It feels like Hart is messing with us. Here he is playing this character that is clearly modeled after the actor himself, right down to the story’s focus on a brother with a rocky past. In a project called True Story, no less. He does seem to tell on himself, in a way that may speak to Hart’s thought process in taking on this job in the first place.

A still from Netflix's 'True Story' featuring Kid (Kevin Hart) walking past a crowd of adoring fans, holding signs like "I'll dump my BF for Kid" and "We love you Kid!!!," while Kid's manager Todd (Paul Adelstein) and supporting writer Billie (Tawny Newsome) walk just behind him.

Credit: Tyler Golden / Netflix

“People don’t care about what you’re struggling with,” Kid says about himself at one point. “They’re here to see a show.”

True Story is really a tale about the commodification of celebrity. It’s a running theme in every episode, where someone wants something that they need Kid to provide. That’s what leaves him scrambling to plug leak after leak. Kid’s fame, and the way people walk into his life as a result of that fame, is the fuel for his own potential undoing as he struggles to keep the truth from coming out.

At times the performance feels downright personal for Hart, who has faced his share of backlash over the years. When he snarls at a super-fan (Theo Rossi, in one of the more memorable roles) during one particularly fraught moment, it’s not a long leap to imagine a similar outburst from the real Hart (or any high-profile celeb, really). And when Kid later realizes that he needs something from the same fan, his sudden turnaround into magnanimous chum is smoothly slimy in that way of falsely congenial celebs working a room at a press or fan event.

It feels like Hart has lived at least some aspects of this story, and he’s injecting those experiences into his work. That’s how acting works, of course. But there are little quirks to the performance that make it feel a bit more personal. A character twist that strangely parallels Hart’s life here, a deadpan stare into the camera there. Spoilers make it tricky to delve into specifics in a review, but the final episode in particular lands like a True Story mission statement from Hart.

If we’re looking at the series purely as an artistic endeavor, this is a strong showcase for what Hart can do when he’s not being funny. Netflix’s Fatherhood showed us his softer side as an actor, and now True Story exists as a showcase for how he navigates the tension and subtle storytelling needs of a mystery thriller. Kid’s arc isn’t any kind of a straight line, and Hart manages the various swerves with the expertise of a seasoned pro.

He’s got a killer scene partner in Snipes, of course. The ’90s superstar who led everything from White Men Can’t Jump to Passenger 57 to the Blade trilogy hasn’t lost a step. He brings a quiet sort of menace to Carlton, who clearly loves his kid brother — but who just as clearly has other pressures weighing him down. The mystery-riddled plot does Snipes no favors, but he works with what he has to sell his complicated character.

“People don’t care about what you’re struggling with,” Kid says about himself at one point. “They’re here to see a show.”

The surrounding cast is similarly inhibited by a script that gives most of the focus and development work to Hart, but they all have their own subplots and each of them also provide yet another window through which we get to know Kid. Paul Adelstein brings great energy to the role of Todd, Kid’s ride-or-die manager. He joins an entourage that also includes Herschel (William Catlett), Kid’s stoic but loyal bodyguard; and Billie (Tawny Newsome), a comedy writer who’s there to sharpen Kid’s jokes if only he’d just stop sidelining her.

All three are wary of Carlton’s influence on Kid, who has had issues in the past with substance abuse, but they’re on the outside looking in. Only Carlton is aware of what’s actually going on with Kid. So when Todd, Herschel, or Billie step into a scene, it’s almost always in a way that leaves their boss on the defensive. Their subplots, such as Billie’s own ascent toward celebrity, don’t ever get to fully unfold. So they end up feeling like filler characters.

Billy Zane makes a far-too-brief but wholly memorable appearance as a Greek gangster called in to help with the body, only to turn it into a bid to extort Kid. He’s an immediately exciting antagonistic presence; that’s the Zane factor for you. But his replacement antagonists, played by John Ales and Chris Diamantopoulos, are decidedly more low energy. They’re supposed to come off as serious and threatening, but they end up feeling… kind of flat.

I blame the script. It’s not that the supporting cast isn’t good; they’re clearly trying their best, and it’s a genuinely magnetic collection of personalities. But True Story is about Kid first, and that doesn’t leave much room for anyone else. It’s a bearable problem until the late stages of the series, as the story begins to wrap up. The big conflict driving Kid forward hinges on other characters and their relationships, but none of it is fleshed out especially well.

This is most evident in the final pair of episodes, which slide from a big all-is-revealed moment into a final, and frankly somewhat baffling, showdown. The story caps off with a truly bonkers sequence of events that completely reorients our understanding of Kid and his brother. It’s not quite as unhinged as the twist in Sweet Girl, another Netflix project, but it cuts unexpectedly close in its what the fuck-ness.

A still from Netflix's 'True Story' featuring Gene (Theo Rossi) sitting on a park bench with Kid (Kevin Hart), who has placed a comforting hand on Theo's arm.

Credit: Adam Rose / Netflix

I’m not sad about the time I spent watching True Story. It’s an entertaining thriller that you can knock out in one moderately long sitting, and it’s riveting all the way through. I just still can’t shake the feeling that Hart took the job in the first place because he feels like it says something important about the “plight” of celebrity.

For a guy who’s had his share of highly public missteps over the years, Hart knows a thing or two about backlash. He’s probably felt wronged at times, justifiably or not, over the way people have treated him. True Story ends up coming across like it’s a safe space for Hart to act on all his frustrations with living such a public life.

Kid’s comment about people just wanting to “see a show” from a celeb like him is on target. It’s a distasteful aspect of our online world where fame can find anyone, at any time and for any reason. That’s something we as a society are continuing to grapple with in various ways. But for a bona fide movie star like Hart — and for the directly comparable Kid as well — it’s a complaint that rings hollow.

For movie stars, rock stars, top-tier influencers — undue attention is the price they pay for their big money, high profile jobs. We the fans may not be entitled to know their every move or have a say in how they live their lives, but celebrities need to accept that their daily life isn’t entirely their own. This is something that Kid, and potentially Hart as well, never seems to grasp.

True Story is a perfectly fine ride as a twisting mystery that doubles as a showcase for Hart’s acting talents. But the takeaway moments it ends on are downright laughable. In that sense, the series title “True Story” is both apt and hilariously ironic.

Kid’s struggles are self-inflicted and he makes a series of increasingly poor decisions to deal with them. How many real life celebrities have we seen implode for similar reasons? Hart may think he’s messing with us in this story about a famous guy who suddenly finds he might have to actually pay for a misstep. But he seemingly fails to realize that no one feels bad for a celeb who learns there’s a cost to having all that money and power.

True Story is now streaming on Netflix.


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