Thanks to Ride Along, Kevin Hart can do whatever he damn well pleases. With a cool $47.8M, the buddy-cop flick nearly doubled its budget in a single weekend, and as a plus, it’s also the highest-grossing film to ever open on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. So if it wasn’t already official (which it probably should be, given Hart already walloped the box office with his stand-up concert film Let Me Explain and currently has at least three more films slated for 2014), it’s now become law: Kevin Hart is the film equivalent of a large sack with a dollar sign on it.
The comedian has wasted absolutely no time in capitalizing on Ride Along’s success. MLK day was yesterday, and today Hart’s found himself another starring role: one of the leads in Dreamworks’ upcoming Captain Underpants movie. Sure, it might seem a little strange at first. Hart is huge right now, and the first thing he stakes his name to is an animated film based on a 17 year-old book series? Featuring characters like “Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Poopypants?” A film from Rob Letterman and Nick Stoller, the creative team behind the Jack Black-starring Gulliver’s Travels?
But there’s a method to this supposed madness. First, Hart is far from the only comedian joining up with Captain Underpants. The Wrap reports that besides Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele and Thomas Middleditch (of Mike Judge’s upcoming series Silicon Valley) will all be coming aboard. Hart and Middleditch will play the two fourth-grade protagonists, Helms will be the bald and bloated principal who transforms into a bald, bloated caped crusader, Peele will play class nerd Melvin and Kroll will be the film’s villain, the aforementioned Professor Poopypants.
And when you think about it, this is just the latest inch forward in a career built on slow, measured advancements. Ten years ago, Hart shrugged off the catastrophic Soul Plane (which threatened to be both his first and last starring role) and began building himself up as a bit player before latching on to bigger and bigger parts. Now he’s officially a star; the next thing he needs to diversify. Right now, Kevin Hart the Actor is known for one thing: playing Kevin Hart in comedies. Ride Along was a step in the right direction, as it contained both guns and explosions, and officially counts as an action comedy. Captain Underpants is another move outside Hart’s typical comfort zone and into something a little more family friendly (considering that the actor has rarely, if ever, appeared in a film softer than PG-13). Plus it’ll be Hart’s first-ever animated feature. It’s his success with these (admittedly very mild) risks that will determine whether he’s the flavor of the month or the real deal. But given how well his first step into a new genre paid off, I have the feeling we’ll be hearing about Kevin Hart for a long, long while.
Oh, and for anyone feeling the sword of Gulliver’s Travels dangling precariously above Captain Underpants’ head, take a deep breath. Gullver’s screenwriter Stoller also penned the script for The Muppets, so things might not be as dire as they seem.