Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley Dickerson
Directed by Etan Cohen (feature-film directorial debut)
Go on, get your mind out of the gutter. Yes, the movie is called Get Hard (opening today), but it doesn't mean what you think. How immature of you. "Hard" of course refers to the slang-version of the word, to get "tough" or to "toughen up." And you thought it meant something else.
Well actually, the filmmakers of Get Hard are in fact relying on your immaturity for the film to be deemed a success. And mind you, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just the truth of the matter. And in my humble estimation, in setting the bar low, they missed a real opportunity to create a smart satire, featuring two of our most gifted modern comedians. Instead, the potential for a relevant and scathing satire on race and class is reduced to an imbecilic hour-and-a-half of cheap jokes that mostly center on racial stereotypes and male homophobia. Or in other words, pretty much exactly what most people would expect when they buy their ticket.
That's not to say that Get Hard isn't funny...it has several laugh-out-loud moments. Heck, it would be nearly impossible not to find Kevin Hart or Will Ferrell funny, and the two actually create great comedic chemistry. They are both given moments to shine and moments to play it straight when the other one goes all-out. It's uneven, to say the least, but it isn't unfunny.
Playing up social and racial stereotypes to the nth-degree, Ferrell plays James King, an uber-wealthy Wall Street business man who lives in a mansion and employs several Latino workers. He seemingly has it all: The money, the job, the girl (Alison Brie, who is great as a run-of-the-mill gold-digger). His boss and his girlfriend's father is Martin (Craig T. Nelson), who James calls "dad." But all goes haywire when some shady business is revealed within the company, and James is set up to take the fall. To set an example of these white collar business-types who think they can do whatever they want, James is sentenced to serve hard time not in a lush, wealthy prison somewhere, but in the confines of the notoriously hard San Quentin.
In a panic and with only thirty days of freedom until he is sent to prison, he racially profiles his car-detailer, Darnell (Kevin Hart), who is a hard-working, outstanding citizen, business-owner and father - you know, everything a white man would expect a black man not to be - who is in need of some money so that he can put his young daughter into a good school. Darnell - being black and all - must know what it's like to be in prison, so James hires him to "get him hard," or in other words, prepare him for a life of rape and humiliation behind bars.
Both Ferrell and Hart try to balance their characters on the verge of absurdity and both do a fine job. They are an interesting duo to see on screen as well - the massively lanky Ferrell and the super-short Hart - but both are at their best when they get away from their character's "expected" ways. Ferrell showed signs of being a hardcore thug with his character's back-story in The Other Guys, and here his funniest scenes is when he becomes the gangster "Mayo" after joining a black gang. Hart, whose character is proper, weak and straight-laced, really shows off his comedic ability in a scene where he simultaneously portrays a black, Latino and gay inmate, while trying to prep James for his impending imprisonment.
But at nearly every turn, the film takes the easy way out. There are several cracks about the "upper one-percenters," but not nearly as many as there are dealing with James's fear of being raped. In fact, this fear is the crux of the entire movie, to the point where it has had many critics calling the movie homophobic, and even racist. I didn't find it to be offensively either. My biggest issue was that it never took any risks. For example, why not just make James guilty, instead of introducing an entirely tired sub-plot involving him trying to prove his innocence? We don't have a hard time believing blacks know all about prison, or that going to prison automatically means you will be raped...would it have been a stretch for us to believe that the white Wall Street business tycoon is actually guilty as charged?
Get Hard misses an opportunity to approach these racial and social topics in an intelligent way. Instead we get a scene where Ferrell must learn to give a blow-job. Both Hart and Ferrell can do better, but things could have been a lot worse.
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