‘Get Hard’ Review: Two Hilarious Actors
Individually, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are undeniably hilarious guys. Bringing two major comedic forces together on the big screen just makes sense on both a commercial and entertainment level. Unfortunately, Get Hard largely squanders the talents of Ferrell and Hart on an outdated premise with tired jokes, delivering what essentially amounts to one overlong joke about the terrors of prison rape.
It’s not that the film is offensive — it’s incredibly aware of the jokes its making, its audience, and the fine line between subverting stereotypes and casually reinforcing them. But with his directorial debut, Etan Cohen doesn’t seem very concerned with walking that line, preferring to ignore it entirely.
Ferrell plays James King, an earnest but ignorant man framed for inside trading and embezzlement and sentenced to 10 years in prison when he refuses to take a plea deal. James assumes that the man who runs the car wash service out of the garage of his successful business is an ex-con — relying on his statistical expertise, James surmises that because one in three black men are imprisoned in their lifetimes, Darnell Lewis must have been to jail at some point in his life. Desperate for help to survive the horrors of prison and coping with the loss of everything (his money, his hot fiancee), James asks Darnell for help.
There’s just one catch: Darnell is just as much of an honest, hard worker as James, and he’s never been to prison. But with the promise of the $30,000 he needs in order to buy his family a better house in a better school district, Darnell accepts the offer. What follows is a formulaic comedy in which Darnell schools James in the survival basics of incarceration, transforming his new friend’s home into a prison in which James’ domestic employees gleefully assist in oppressing their employer.
Get Hard already feels dated. The insider trading angle isn’t fresh or timely, and the jokes about prison rape (of which there are many) are tired. Imagine an entire film based on “Yo’ Momma” jokes. Joking about prison rape in the face of imminent incarceration is too easy. It’s not that the jokes are particularly homophobic, as all involved make it clear that unwanted sexual encounters are of chief concern, although there is a little too much panic over penile prospects. A needless, extended joke that sees James attempting to perform oral sex on another man in the bathroom of a notable gay hang-out seems like it might have been funnier on the page, but the execution is grossly misguided.
The film has one clever concept going for it in the idea that an exceedingly wealthy white man who essentially screws over the other 99 percent is now being forced into a situation where he himself will be repeatedly screwed by those he perceives as lesser-than. This concept would be more clever if, A. James was actually a guilty, terrible person rather than a well-meaning, ignorant rich guy, and B. The film actually ran with it instead of funneling all of its energies into rape jokes.
Ferrell and Hart do their best, attempting and occasionally succeeding in elevating the worn out material thanks to their natural talents. Hart is genuinely funny as a guy pretending to be a hardened criminal, and to everyone but James, it’s obvious that he’s never set foot anywhere remotely near a prison environment. One particularly amusing scene features Hart appropriating the plot of Boyz n the Hood to explain how he was sent to prison.
We’ve seen similar earnest but ignorant performances from Ferrell before, but there’s a reason he’s often cast either as a willfully ignorant jerk or a well-meaning oblivious type: these are characters he plays well. There’s an innocence to James both literally and figuratively, and Ferrell imbues the character with a juvenile quality he’s quite good at.
Get Hard is the definition of a hit and miss film — for every genuinely funny moment there are eight more jokes that don’t land. If not for the charisma and talents of Ferrell and Hart, the film would fall completely flat. From the insider trading angle to the incessant barrage of prison rape jokes, the film feels dated before it’s even hit theaters. Even the music choices are a couple of years old, which is like 20 in pop culture years. The film is not entirely unappealing, but when you have two immensely funny guys like this, you expect more than watching Ferrell and Hart engage in a futile exercise in elevating mediocre material.