“Get Hard” has a few laughs in it, I’ll give it that. It’s hard to see Will Ferrell lamely pick a fight with bodybuilders, or see him suggest he visit members of a black gang in blackface, without chuckling. The problem is that the majority of the film consists of sitting quietly through lame, failing jokes, and being upset that the film doesn’t do anything interesting with a pretty good premise.
The film is about James King (Ferrell) a wealthy hedge fund manager who, unbelievably, is a genius at finances but a naïve idiotic regarding every other facet of his life, and being a human in general. Okay, he can play guitar and later seems to have mastered an obscure, Brazilian form of martial arts. Otherwise, it’s a surprise this guy ever learned to read. The inability to believe this character could be a real human being that is so smart and yet so stupid hinders the film immensely. See, it turns out that James is framed for securities fraud and embezzlement and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison. The film makes the character stupid and innocent so we will like him, thus throwing away a perfect opportunity to do a satire on any number of things: the upper class in general, Wall Street, Bernie Madoff, the entire 2008 financial crisis, Capitalism in general. Nope, he’s stupid, not guilty, and seems to possess actual skills (unlike many stock market traders who rely on computer algorithms other people write combined with guesswork to accumulate unearned wealth through selective gambling). The film positions him to specifically not be a comment or satire on anything.
King, fearing being beaten or raped in prison, turns to the man who owns the business he turns to for car washes, Darnell. Darnell is played by Kevin Hart who can often be annoying in films (“Grudge Match”) but here comes across reasonably likeable. Darnell lives in a poor area of L.A. and wants to move to a better area with better schools for his child, but he cannot come up with $30,000 for the down payment on a house. At one point early in the film, even a predatory lender won’t loan him the money. Way to let off another guilty party in the financial crisis, movie. In any case, King mistakes Darnell for an ex-con because, well, Darnell’s black and King knows that 1/3rd of all black men in America are incarcerated at some point in their lives. Considering virtually the only other black people we see in this movie besides Darnell and his family are gang members and their scantily clad female groupies, the film doesn’t exactly make a case that Darnell is racist, so much as he’s correct but lacking in tact and in making casual observations. Later, in a scene full of wasted potential, King is throw into a white supremacist club and almost murdered, thus letting King off easy for his casual racism by showing full-on biker gang, topless-redneck-women racism.
In any case, Darnell needs the money, so he pretends to be a hardened ex-con and runs King through a variety of trials, mostly unfunny, in order to get him into shape for prison. When the trials at first don’t work, Darnell takes King to a gay restaurant and tells him he might as well learn how to suck a dick. We’re soon “treated” to a scene where King attempts to suck a random gay man’s penis, but can’t bring himself to do so. I don’t read this scene as being homophobic, exactly, but more about straight men’s fear of gayness. Sadly for this film, both “Hot Tub Time Machine” movies covered this material, and similar scenes, in far funnier ways, and one of those movies just came out last month.
That, in a nut shell, is pretty much this film. We also get Alison Brie as King’s fiancé, whose only job in the movie is to look sexy in lingerie for one scene , and an unfunny cameo from John Mayer, whose lyrics I actually listened to for the first time in this movie and they are just awful. The rest of the cast hardly matters as they rarely do anything funny or important.
The opening credits of the film contrast the lives of King and Darnell, and we think we’re going to see a satire that shows the needless opulence of the upper class contrasted with undeserved squalor of man who works hard and owns his own small business, yet remains poor. Nope, that’s not this movie. This movie has almost no interest in talking about any political or otherwise interesting issues which could have been explored with this premise. Hell, even last year’s “Horrible Bosses 2” took a stab at satire and was half-way successful. Nope. “Get Hard” just wants to give us dick jokes, ass jokes, jokes based on racial stereotypes, Will Ferrell playing a role he plays in every third film he’s in, and Kevin Hart being Kevin Hart.
The film was directed by Etan Cohen, who has written smart satire on shows like “Beavis & Butt-Head”, “King of the Hill” and “American Dad”, as well as co-writing Mike Judge’s brilliant film “Idiocracy”. Now, he’s made a film one of the dumb characters from “Idiocracy” would have liked. There is a scene later in the film, where King is teaching gang members how to make money on the stock market by betting against investments and the characters compare it to gang robberies that borders on satire, and hints at a smarter movie which could have made, making clear that there isn’t much of a difference between white collar crime and street crime beyond public perception and the legal system’s whims. My guess is that the two original screenwriters, Jay Martel & Ian Roberts, fleshed out an interesting idea from Adam McKay (writer/director of the “Anchorman” movies), turning in a shitty script. Cohen, probably realizing the script was shit but not wanting to give up his chance at his first directorial gig, gave the script as much of a “smartening-up” as possible (or as the studio would allow) and turned in a film that is largely crappy but hints at a better film it could have been.
In 1983, the year I was born, the film “Trading Places” managed to make fun of the rich, have a poor black protagonist who wasn’t completely likeable, have a rich white protagonist who was very unlikeable, have a female lead who was an unapologetic prostitute, and still be one of the funniest films of the 1980s and not play it safe. If you took out that film’s indictment of the rich, made the Dan Aykroyd character a loveable buffoon, made Eddie Murphy a family man, and made the film 98% less funny, you’d have “Get Hard”. C-