Published on March 28th, 2015 | by Dan Nicholls0
Get hard finds Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart teaming up for a ‘comedy’ that proves to be more racist and sexist than it does funny.
Get Hard, a new movie from director/co-writer Etan Cohen, is a disappointment in the vein of the most tone-deaf comedy disasters. The movie stars Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart and wants to be Trading Places but winds up more like Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (that’s bad) meets The Campaign (that’s kinda, sorta good? I can’t remember, I know I laughed during it but who the hell remembers anything about that movie?). Will Ferrell is a funny guy — anybody could tell you that. Even when he’s in a sort of shitty Land of the Lost / Bewitched / Semi-Pro sleepwalking mode, he’s still someone you just can’t hate. And maybe that’s why I have such a bad feeling in my mouth thanks to Get Hard. Because the few laughs that you stumble upon aren’t worth the trek through the sewer with this one.
One viewing of this movie (and please note, this is just my reaction after seeing the film on a first viewing) has me convinced that it has racist, homophobic, and sexist themes that don’t end with any lessons learned by the characters onscreen. These themes just might be the ideology at the core of the film, but they’re disguised as ‘jokes.’ Unfortunately, they’re jokes that don’t land and aren’t redeemed in any way. The movie’s sour core spoils nearly all of the potential that Ferrell and Kevin Hart bring to the table as financial broker James and straight-laced family man Darnell, respectively.
James is a wuss of a white boy up in the financial district, and Darnell cleans cars all day while dreaming of a better home for his wife and daughter. James gets charged with fraud and is sentenced to 10 years in jail, but is given 30 days furlough to get his affairs in order. To increase his odds of surviving on the inside, he calls on Darnell to train him, despite the fact that Darnell’s never done time. And once they get together, everything they say or do boils down to race and sexual orientation. And yet, for all of the mean-spirited humor in Get Hard at the expense of pretty much everyone else, there’s shockingly no direct comment about Hart’s height — especially in comparison to that of his much taller costar. It’s far from an equal opportunity comedy and it skirts the line of digging at some dense material, but Ferrell’s 2012 PG-13 movie The Other Guys was, somehow, a more biting snipe at the 1% and I would hope both men are smart enough to smell the movie’s bigoted viewpoint from a mile away. Ferrell’s never been the most sophisticated comedian, but there are moments in Get Hard that dip down into Sandler territory.
Most scenes in the film deal with the leading pair talking about prison rape. Those scenes usually are bookended by discussions about race, and a handful delve into straight-up moments of sexism. Some other moments that are genuinely funny could have had more of an impact if the filmmakers drifted toward a darker cinematic route, but the film stands as a bland and despicable experience; there’s a strong premise in there somewhere, buried underneath all the hate, but the concept rarely shines through in the execution. Darnell’s ‘stabbing’ lesson, wherein he repeatedly shanks James with a remote control, and a simulated prison riot scene, are both hilarious without indulging in the intolerant themes found throughout the remainder of the movie. It’s in moments like those, where the two stars just get to be funny, that you really wish they were pairing up on something else — anything else — instead.
The two superstars aside, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare too well either. Alison Brie is sadly wasted and put to poor use. She’s a gifted actress, as any Community fan will attest, but she’s given nothing to do other than provide gratuitous sex appeal. Brie is beautiful and funny and has a twinkle of excitement in her eye that sparkles with big screen charm, but Get Hard ignores the truly best parts of her. Surprisingly, rapper T.I. pops up for a couple scenes and completely steals the entire show as an actual ex-con who attempts to guide James down a more gangster path. Just as he proved in Identity Thief (a better, but by no means good, comedy), T.I. has a knack for timing and delivering characters that are funny but don’t resort to being clowns. He excels in spite of the presence of his larger, but more desperate, co-stars. T.I. could be on his way to becoming a solid comedic character actor one day if he gets some better material to work with. Watch out.
Still, despite the time spent in this only intermittently funny world, I walked out sort of not hating either one of the movie’s stars. Movies like Get Hard are usually quoted as being ‘partially improvised’ during filming, and the line between the performers and the poorly written characters becomes quite distinct in this case. When you laugh, it’s because of Ferrell and Hart doing their thing, not because of the story or the situations they find themselves in. James and Darnell don’t change — at least not in any way that feels close to authentic — and they certainly don’t stick with you after the credits roll. But by the end of it, Ferrell and Hart look ready to walk away from this mess and into their next paycheques. For the longest time, I really wanted to see a sequel to Step Brothers become a reality* but after the dull Anchorman 2 and now this, maybe it’s time for Ferrell and company to move in a different direction.
Want to get a proper comedy fix instead? See What We Do In the Shadows and have yourself a genuinely hilarious time.
*If Ferrell and his usual collaborator Adam McKay can both work together as the credited producers of ‘Get Hard’, surely they can get ‘Step Brothers 2’ going, am I right?!