That’s what she said. Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie and Craig T. Nelson star in Get Hard.
Director – Etan Cohen
Screenplay – Jay Martel, Ian Roberts & Etan Cohen
Producer – Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material
James King (Will Ferrell) is a wealthy hedge-fund manager who’s engaged to the spoiled daughter, Alissa (Alison Brie), of his boss Martin Barrow (Craig T. Nelson). His nice, cozy life, however, is disrupted when he is framed for securities fraud and embezzlement, which results in him getting sentenced to ten years in prison.
Not the fancy white-collar, minimum security type of prison either; his ass is going to San Quentin.
Knowing full well he won’t last even an hour in the joint, King approaches car wash owner Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) – who happens to be the only black man he knows – and offers him $30,000 to teach him how to survive in prison. Despite Darnell not only never once being in a gang or serving time, but in fact, living quite the opposite life as a devoted family man with a decent living, he willingly accepts King’s payday.
During the past few years, moviegoers have been over-saturated with Kevin Hart. It’s only March and this is already his second. Around ten years ago, Will Ferrell was in the same position (14 films from just 2003-2006). Both have a style of their own, Ferrell’s loud and brash idiocy and Hart’s Red Bull-fueled motormouth, and have beaten into the viewer’s heads throughout the 21st century. As popular as they both are, it was only a matter of time before they appeared onscreen together with Get Hard.
And if there’s anything that this film wanted to hammer home to its audience, it’s that people get raped in prison.
Well, color me surprised!
On paper, Get Hard isn’t a groundbreaking idea and we’ve seen comedies that interweave different cultures, classes and races before, Trading Places being a great example. While lacking in originality, the premise, here involving a wealthy white man assuming a black man with no prison experience and a squeaky clean record can help him survive prison, is still capable of being mined for laughs. Co-writer/director Etan Cohen, in his directorial debut, is no stranger to satire, having co-written Idiocracy, Tropic Thunder and episodes of King of the Hill. The opportunity for strong, biting satire on race and class issues, as well as life behind bars, presents itself, but unfortunately Cohen, more often than not, resorts to cheap and tired prison rape jokes, and keeps on beating that dead horse long after they’ve worn out their welcome.
We get it already. Rape occurs in prison, but feel free to remind us about a thousand more times.
Now, I’ll partially defend this film in that I wasn’t offended by any of the lowbrow humor like a number of the other butthurt critics seem to be, but keep in mind, that’s partially defend. I said I wasn’t offended, not bored.
Of course, you’re gonna have to throw in a couple of prison rape jokes. To go completely without ’em creates an elephant in the room more distractingly obvious than the overuse of the joke. Every now and then, an inspired bit of humor pops up, but for the most part, the film depends on too many lazy lowbrow gags, and suffers ’cause of it. Cohen certainly isn’t Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Harold Ramis or John Hughes when it comes to writing, but he has proven before that he’s capable of writing effective comedy, and you expect more from him than just aiming at the lowest common denominator.
It also doesn’t help the film’s case that its main character is so flimsily written, it’s hard to care whether he’s able to clear himself of the charges against him or not. Ferrell’s James King is the world’s biggest idiot, yet somehow we’re supposed to believe he’s a financial wizard. As clueless as he is, though, you’d shit yourself if he was able to accurately count out your change at the cash register. I guess that’s the only way Cohen, and fellow writers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts, could make it remotely believable that James assumes a 5’4″ Darnell survived prison when in reality that pint-sized motormouth would’ve been passed around the cell block like a weed bowl at a smoke out rally.
That’s mainly why most of the racial humor falls flat. It lacks the clever punch it needs (and isn’t as consistently absurd like with the Anchorman movies), and just revolves around King acting like he’s never even seen a black person before, much less interacted with one.
Let’s not even discuss the wasted talents of Alison Brie and Craig T. Nelson in two horrendously bland caricature roles.
It’s not like I had high hopes for this film, but in a way this is disappointing ’cause if there’s anything that works, it’s the chemistry between Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. Hart provides most of the film’s humor, bringing his trademark energy to a more straight-man type of role we don’t often see him in, and it’s hard not to laugh when he’s either training James on how to handle himself in the Yard, or being put on the spot to tell James his “prison story” in which he rattles off plot points from Boyz n the Hood.
If only the two were given better characters to play and stronger material to work with.
Although the premise has promise, Get Hard squanders an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of films like Trading Places and Stir Crazy, relying heavily on tired prison rape jokes that are neither clever or funny, and from a shock for shock’s sake standpoint, aren’t even that shocking either. Kevin Hart gives it his all here and the rapport between him and Ferrell is solid, but overall this is nothing more than a mediocre wasted effort.
I give Get Hard a C- (★★).