In the world of gimmick-based comedies, Get Hard is an unfortunate example. Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are very funny people, the whole wimpy-businessman-turned-prison-thug angle works for a bit, and director Etan Cohen finds a way to incorporate a freakin’ baboon into the mix, but the film’s racial obsession eventually loses its humorous touch somewhere around the halfway mark. It’s your typical “rigid white guy gets a cultural ass-whooping” kind of humor, and while Ferrell’s adorably insensitive nature plays well with Hart’s fake-hardass attempt, the fish-out-of-water antics become overbearing as time goes on. That, and it’s an extremely juvenile attempt to blend awkward racial digs and an endless slew of penis jokes.
Ferrell plays James King, a pampered Wall Street trader who gets arrested on numerous counts of fraud. Thinking he’ll be thrown in a cushy white-collar prison, James gets a rude awakening when he’s sentenced to ten years of hard time at San Quentin. Knowing he wouldn’t survive a day in his current state, the now-broke millionaire hires his local car washer Darnell to toughen him up before getting thrown in the slammer. Little does King know though that Darnell has a rap sheet cleaner than a newborn baby, but Darnell needs the money, so he fabricates a prison training course that promises anyone will be jailhouse ready. With only thirty days before his imprisonment begins, James has to toughen up, or accept his fate as San Quentin’s newest bitch – unless he can prove his proclaimed innocence.
While I did sometimes find myself laughing along with the South by Southwest audience members who spent much of the film hooting and hollering, some of the gangland humor gets lost in trying to become too boundary-pushing. Get Hard isn’t mean-spirited or racially intolerant by ANY means, but certain scenes feel a bit forced when trying to establish the “black versus white” mentality that loses its playfulness when another awkward white dude is pressured into saying the “n” word. Yes, when James King busts out of his gaudy mansion while dressed as Lil Wayne so he can “blend in” with Darnell’s gang-banging cousin, waltzing right into a gardener-gyrating rap video, there’s no sense of ambition throughout the comedic journey. Ferrell is caucasian and Hart is African American – that’s as far as the writers care to delve.
The story itself goes for goofy immaturity over any type of dark prison atmosphere, which lends to some rather funny sequences, but the films ends up beating itself into the ground by the time any sort of conflict truly presents itself. Between Ferrell’s ability to take repeated punches and a techno-blaring prison riot recreation, there are genuine moments of hilarity that first-time director Etan Cohen captures amidst very, VERY juvenile attempts at comedy – but the successes are far too inconsistent. Ferrell’s character becomes predictable in his utter ignorance of African American culture (from the mind of a rich white moron), and the whole routine runs very thin. Ferrell is forced to play dumb for an hour and thirty minutes, and while his mad-dog face is worth a few chuckles, the repetition of stupidity and slight attempts at personal growth make it hard to appreciate the performance on hand.
It’s a shame, too, because Kevin Hart emphatically showcases what a dynamic comedic talent he’s blossomed into over the years. A handful of scenes are carried solely by Hart’s firecracker energy, as he bounces around the screen like an explosive ball of energy that even Ferrell struggles to keep up with. There’s a particular scene during King’s “prison yard” training (a tennis court turned into a fake jail yard) where Darnell plays three separate characters who are attempting to claim King as their bitch, and it’s Hart’s non-stop momentum that ensures the mini-sketch works. When Hart is firing on all cylinders, his mile-a-minute comedic chops are unparalleled, but he sadly can’t carry the entirety of Get Hard on his own.
Even with a supporting cast that includes a very funny T.I., a gold-digging Alison Brie, and Craig T. Nelson, Get Hard ends up being a better “wait for Netflix” experience that will make you laugh, but it’s a rather shallow watch that doesn’t quite have the substance to provide a consistently gut-busting experience. Kevin Hart fights through every scene like a laugh-seeking ninja warrior, and Ferrell isn’t bad by any means, but there’s no support to be found from any of the other cast members (even though King’s hired help have a few comical moments of abusive redemption).
If an over-abundance of prison rape jokes and “keistering” are your thing, you’ll be in for an all-too expected treat, but given the talent involved, it’s hard not to wish for something more. It’s like comparing homemade toilet wine to a Château Guiraud Sauternes – the toilet wine will get you drunk, but the stale ingredients just can’t compare to better products.
Unfortunately, Hart and Ferrell just couldn't get hard enough for me.