Get Hard (2015) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, T.I., Edwina Findley Dickinson, Paul Ben-Vector, Erick Chavarria, Ariana Neal
Small role: John Mayer
Director: Etan Cohen
Screenplay: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Etan Cohen
Review published March 28, 2015
One would think that the team-up of veteran comedian Will Ferrell (The LEGO Movie, Anchorman 2) and comedy superstar du jour Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Top Five) in an R-rated buddy comedy would produce surefire laughs in what should surely be the funniest film of 2015. Alas, it's not even the funniest film of March 2015, at least not for me, as the amount of times I found myself laughing out loud can be counted without using up all of the fingers on one hand.
Ferrell stars as super-successful Los Angeles-based investment fund manager James King, who seemingly has it all, including a gorgeous fiancée (Brie, "Community") who happens to be the daughter of the president of the company, Martin Barrow (Nelson, Soul Surfer), and has just been named partner in the firm. Kevin Hart, in his second mentor-for-hire film in a row, plays Darnell Lewis, who runs a struggling car-wash business that high rollers like James frequents, but with big dreams of a payday that will finally help him move his family out of South Central L.A. When James is given 30 days to sort out his affairs before going to San Quentin for 10 years on a trumped-up charge of white-collar crimes, he's so afraid of what prison life will do to a milquetoast man like him, he turns to the one guy he knows that he assumes has been to prison (because he's black), Darnell, to try to give him tips on how to survive the experience. Squeaky-clean Darnell pretends to be the ex-con for the price he needs, creating a "boot camp" on prison survival that includes such things as how not to get shanked, raped, or otherwise targeted for a beatdown.
Co-screenwriter Etan Cohen (Men in Black 3, Madagascar 2) takes his first stab at directing with Get Hard, and turns in quite a mixed bag of entertainment. While the film is full of racial humor throughout, the social commentary that would smartly allow for permissibility for hearing the n-word and other epithets liberally is muted in favor of broad gags that try to push the envelope of taste, turning what might have been a movie that skewers disparities of class and race, as well as the idiocy of the penal system that seems to treat white-collar criminals all too lightly despite causing more harm to society, into just another raunchy R-rated series of envelope pushing. You'll struggle to find the satirical subtext underneath all of the male-on-male rape jokes that permeate most of the movie's bigger gags, with the worst of them being an uncomfortable, should-have-been-excised sequence where James is taken to a restaurant frequented by gay men in order to practice how to give fellatio when his attempt to harden his image fails (really, does the ability to perform a great blow job actually help avoid unwanted prison rape advances?).
But what's really missing is the character arc for its main character, James King. He's shown as a stuffy rich guy who doesn't mind bilking the general public for the enrichment of himself and his firm. Plus, he's a bigot and more than a little homophobic in his attitudes, hence why the thought of being assaulted by gangs of minorities in prison has him spending every last second of what little free time he has left in trying to steel himself for. But rather than show how smarmy James is supposed to be, the makers of Get Hard seem to want us to sympathize and even empathize with him. Sure, he is a little squeamish about using the n-word, even to a gang of white supremacists he's trying to ally himself with for protection in the slammer, and eventually does come to befriend a black man and some gangbangers in the hood, but his attitudes don't change on anything but that his ex has a "white butt", which is somehow not as appealing for him to watch twerk as a black woman's (this is somehow this movie's indicator that he's no longer prejudiced, I imagine). One might gather that he'd readily ditch all of his newfound friends in a heartbeat if it meant getting his old job back at any point during his 30-day-to-prison countdown, and he'd never look back.
Eventually, the lazy collection of hit-and-miss skits leads to a poorly conceived and violent showdown between the men and those who've made James the patsy for their crimes, and what little comedic momentum the film has up to that point screeches to a halt. Quite a few in the screening I attended, sensing the film's closure is imminent and knowing exactly how it's all going to play out, decided to vacate the theater without bothering to stick around for an epilogue as to what happens to these characters. I don't blame them, as without characters we care about, and comedy that misses far more than it hits, it's worth skipping out on the last five or ten minutes if it means getting out of the parking lot without traffic.
Ferrell can be funny, though he doesn't exactly portray a culturally aloof and snobby businessman very well, so your mileage will certainly vary on how much you're willing to overlook the inauthenticity of the performance for the potential sake of a few chuckles. He does play well opposite Hart, with the latter playing a bit more of the straight-man, which is a new and interesting turn for the energetic and engaging comedic force. It would be nice to see these two comedy big-shots work together again, but hopefully their next team-up will have a ready-made clever script that has more than mostly ad-libbed, high-volume crass innuendo to deliver on for its big laughs, because Get Hard is about as flaccid a comedy as they come.
©2015 Vince Leo