Both respective fan bases of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart should be pleased with what they find in Get Hard, the first collaboration between the two A-list comic actors, as there is in the film everything you’ve come to expect to see in their work.
For Ferrell, audiences have come to expect to see his do-it-in-his-sleep brand of tall, clueless, white guy goofiness, along with multiple shots of his naked derierre.
For Hart, it’s the maniac expressiveness of his face and physicality as he grimaces and recoils in horror from just about everything going on around him, along with lots and lots of less-than-clean language.
Miraculously, almost in spite of those very disparate styles, a script shamelessly driven by homophobia, just about every racial, sexual, and socioeconomic stereotype imaginable, and the clearly hands-off approach of director Etan Cohen, it all comes together to form a really funny movie. It shouldn’t be as fun to watch as it is, but, well, it just is.
The plot isn’t much deeper than what audiences have seen in the trailers. Just when it seems that millionaire finance whiz James King (Ferrell) couldn’t ask for more in life — success, wealth, impending marriage to his boss’s beautiful daughter Alissa (Alison Brie) — it all gets taken away by a conviction in federal court for fraud and embezzlement. Deciding to make an example of seemingly another member of the wealthy elite preying upon and plundering the savings of others in order to get ahead, the judge sentences James not to the cushy, minimum security detention facilities often set aside for white collar criminals, but to the notoriously hardcore max security prison at San Quentin.
Left high and dry by Alissa and his former boss and father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson), poor, hopeless, hapless James (who really is innocent, by the way) turns to Darnell Lewis (Hart), the owner of the car wash service that so meticulously (and thanklessly) details his car each day, for an education on how to survive life behind bars. Darnell, in desperate need of the kind of financial help James can provide prior to being to the pokey, agrees to help.
Just one problem. As Darnell’s much smarter and more prudent wife Rita (Edwina Findley) reminds him, Darnell doesn’t know anything about prison, either. The solution, in Darnell’s mind? Just live up to every black stereotype that James apparently already thinks he is, and the money is theirs to buy a house in a neighborhood other than Crenshaw, and send their daughter to school somewhere that doesn’t have metal detectors at every entrance.
At first, it seems Darnell’s education program, which involves among other things turning James’ mansion into a mock-up of San Quentin and having the household staff role-play fellow inmates, doesn’t have a prayer of succeeding in getting James “hard.” But fear of all that apparently goes on in those cells once it’s “lights out”, including unwelcome conjugal visits from fellow inmates, proves to be a powerful motivator, and suddenly the soon-to-be con has embraced every cliché he can find regarding “gang banger” life, right down to Lil’ Wayne inspired fashion, all of which is, of course, likely to get him killed all the quicker.
Watching Get Hard breeze its way through its 100-minute running time, it’s easy to imagine first-time director Etan Cohen, previously known for penning the screenplays for Tropic Thunder and Men in Black 3, simply getting out of the way of his stars and letting them “do their thing.” Cohen shares screenwriting credit for the film alongside writers Ian Roberts and Jay Martel (Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele”), and they deserve credit for setting up a few giggle-worthy running gags throughout the film (the glee with which James’ household staff takes the opportunity to participate in his “education in incarceration” perhaps being the funniest), but the bulk of what’s funny in the film relies on the leads simply being as over-the-top and cartoony as possible. There’s no nuance here, no attempt to get characters past their archetypes. Two-faced, amoral corporate executives? Check. Spoiled, vacuous rich girl? Check. Smug and smarmy attorneys? Check. And Will Ferrell, as his usual on-screen persona minus any weird wig? Check.
Maybe that’s for the best, because somehow it all ends up leading to lots of laughs, assuming you can walk into the theater and leave at the door any righteous indignation you might have at seeing so many negative cultural stereotypes thrown at you at once, or so much humor built upon the disconnect in America between the wealthy elite and everyone else. Perhaps the fact that the script has built into it an awareness of stereotypes and just how readily people accept them will help to disarm some of the offense audiences may take. But then again, if you’re easily offended, there’s really no reason you should be buying a ticket to see this kind of movie at all, right? Right.
So, simply put, if you’re already a fan of Ferrell and Hart’s respective talents and schticks, or just in the mood for some goofy fun to kill about an hour and a half, get in line for a ticket this week and prepare for a hoot. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
Score: 3 out of 5
Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Alison Brie, and Craig T. Nelson. Directed by Etan Cohen.
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material.