Kevin Hart tries to help Will Ferrell get hard in this unlikely-buddy comedy with an edge
This film has the feel of something that started as a pretty funny 10-minute sketch that has been dragged out into 100 minutes and onto the big screen.Most of the gags are absolutely on the edge of taste, and no doubt some audience members will find this nothing more than a crude and offensive beg for laughs. Let’s get one thing straight right from the start – Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are funny dudes. They’re likeable, smart and generally amusing actors. If you’re a fan of one or both of these guys, chances are you’re probably going to watch this movie, and you’ll probably enjoy it. If you’re not typically a fan of crude, on-the-borderline-of-taste comedies, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you spend your hard-earned cash on a ticket to see this. Ferrell plays James King, a sickeningly wealthy stockbroker with all the trimmings – attractive wife, huge house, power suits and more money than he knows what to with.
When James is wrongly arrested for fraud and embezzlement he puts his misguided faith in the justice system and his father-in-law, and soon finds himself facing a long stretch in San Quentin prison when no one believes in his innocence. With just 30 days to prepare himself for life on the inside, James turns to Darnell (Kevin Hart), the manager of his office’s car wash for help, assuming that Darnell has been to jail purely because he’s black. This initial misunderstanding sets in motion the film’s constant barrage of jokes about racism. Despite the fact that he hasn't actually been to prison, Darnell agrees to help James “get hard” enough to survive life inside in exchange for the $30,000 he needs to move his family to a safer neighbourhood.
It’s not often that Will Ferrell is outshone on the screen, but Darnell’s combination of snarky defensiveness, judgemental cynicism combined with Hart’s talent for physical comedy is a truly funny combination. A scene in which Darnell acts out a hypothetical jail yard confrontation showcases Hart’s comedic talent and only makes you wish there was more of this type of comedy and less jokes about rape and homosexuality in the rest of the film.
Darnell sets James a series of tasks, opening a ‘prison school’ in his mansion and enlists the help of James’s disgruntled domestic employees to prepare their employer for a tough life in San Quentin. It is sadly inevitable these days that a comedy dealing with the issue of jailtime is also going to deal with the issue of sexual assault, but Get Hard’s treatment of rape is, to say the least, tricky.
After trying and failing to help James become tough, Darnell decides that the only way prison will be bearable is if James learns to give oral sex; a scene involving a toilet cubicle, full-frontal nudity and a brunch restaurant follows, and will no doubt become infamous. This is neither the first nor the last time that the issue of prison sexual assault will be made the punchline of a joke, and each time it’s difficult to see it as anything other than a cheap play for laughs.
Hart is undoubtedly the star of the film, playing Darnell’s frustration with life perfectly and balancing moments of relatable acting with sarcastic and funny comedy.
Indeed, much of the rest of the film involves recycling the same few jokes over and over again, just in case the audience forgot about racism, homophobia, or the fear of prison-rape. While the film’s treatment of these issues could probably be viewed as a take-down of these stereotypes and as a satire of out-dated attitudes, it is equally likely to be seen as playing up cheap and easy gags, and offhandedly brushing aside the larger issues. Etan Cohen (in his directorial debut) seems to struggle to keep the pace going, and by the time the final quarter of the film rolls round every joke has been repeated so many times that there’s barely anything to snigger at any more.
Get Hard has a lot of promising components, with two bankable leads, a strong opening, a great supporting cast and an interesting and topical concept. Towards the beginning of the film a montage sequence overlays scenes of white privilege and extreme wealth with scenes of poverty, racism and families struggling to get by, and teases an understanding of double standards and ridiculous juxtapositions in everyday life upon which the rest of the film barely scratches the surface.
The concept – rich white male facing jail turns to black male for help to toughen up and survive – is an interesting one and the film touches on issues of race and prejudice a few times, but the audience really has to read between the lines to see anything other than crude comedy. I couldn’t help but walk out of Get Hard feeling that while it wasn’t quite as awful as it could have been (rape jokes notwithstanding), it also had the potential to be an actual topical and thoughtful comedy but sadly didn't come close.
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