Putting two funny guys together doesn’t make a doubly funny movie
Starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart
Directed by Etan Cohen
The first thing you see is a close-up of Will Ferrell, sobbing uncontrollably. The camera holds the shot. This is a comedy, so a well-known comedic actor boo-hoo-ing must be funny…right?
Audiences will likely ask themselves that question, and more than once, as Ferrell and his costar, Kevin Hart, riff through a raunchy gauntlet of jokes built around a premise that certainly, on the surface, isn’t humorous at all: When an investment firm fat cat is sentenced to 10 years of hard time, he fears he’ll never endure the brutalities of prison life.
It helps in the humor department, of course, that Ferrell is a very funny guy. And Hart, who’s parlayed standup and TV success into a budding movie career (Ride Along, The Wedding Ringer) can be a manic ball of comedic energy. But two funnymen together doesn’t always add up to a doubly funny movie. For that, the finger of blame points to Etan Cohen, a screenwriter (Men in Black 3, Tropic Thunder) making his theatrical directing debut, and definitely not to be confused with Ethan Cohen of the Cohen Brothers, the Oscar-winning sibling duo who made No Country For Old Men, True Grit and Fargo.
Ferrell plays the investor dimwit, James King, as an offshoot of the family tree of clueless man-children sprung from Anchorman, Step Brothers, Elf, The Other Guys and other doofuses from his comedy hall of fame. James racks up $28 million with a single phone call; he’s engaged to the daughter (Alison Brie, from TV’s Community) of his firm’s owner (Craig T. Nelson); he sings along to Icona Pop’s I Love It as he drives his car with its vanity plate that reads IMA GAWD.
So it rocks his world when he’s arrested for an investment scandal, and the judge throws the book at him, making him an example of white-collar, one-percent-er crime. James, proclaiming his innocence, refuses to accept a plea deal and is given 30 days to set his affairs in order. In a panic, he turns to the only black person he knows, Darrell (Hart), the owner of the car wash that tends his vehicle every day. Wrongly assuming Darrell has served hard time, James begs him to impart his prison survival skills.
Although Darrell’s criminal record is, in fact, nonexistent, he needs $30,000 to move his family into a better home and get his young daughter into a safer school. So he names his price, pretends to be an ex-con, and agrees to school James in how to “get hard.”
This is—or could have been—some pretty edgy stuff, dancing around race and racism, class and social mobility, wealth and income distribution, and very real fears that most normal people would have about suddenly finding out they’re going to spend a decade behind bars. But director Cohen turns Get Hard into one long, smutty joke that keeps returning to one central topic, prison rape, as a punch line. There’s a particularly unfunny scene that stretches on long after its questionable humor has played out, in which Darrell and James go to a gay brunch spot so James can, shall we say, sharpen a certain skill set in which he’s lacking.
Some genuinely funny bits sneak through. A dinner-table scene, in which Darrell uses the movie storyline from Boyz n the Hood in place of his own, is a hoot. And the “training” scenes, especially when Hart impersonates a whole prison yard full of inmates, or faux-fights with Ferrell, feel like jolts of improv hilarity that show the two stars straining make humor however, wherever, whenever they can in a movie that frequently leaves them stranded.
But too often, and far too much, Get Hard settles for cliches, crudeness and stereotypes instead of anything original, clever or as scathingly funny as it might have been. Ferrell and Hart work tirelessly to stay on their feet as the comedic ground crumbles underneath them and their talent. They do seem to enjoy each other’s company, and they have a crisp, odd-couple chemistry that clicks and crackles, even as the movie clanks and crashes. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we’ll see of them together.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine