It's difficult to know what expectations there were for the new R rated comedy Get Hard. Fans of either Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart, the films two stars, likely have their own set of expectations based off their previous work, but it is difficult to know where anyone stands on a film starring both actors. The hard truth of the matter though is that no matter which actor you are looking forward to seeing, chances are it won't meet even most of your modest expectations. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 40 min
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: March 27, 2015
Loves: Some of Will Ferrell's movies
Likes: Kevin Hart...in small doses (no pun intended)
Neutral: Most of Will Ferrell's movies
Hates: A few of Will Ferrell's movies
A more interesting choice for Darnell? Eddie Murphy...think about it.
James King (Ferrell) has it all. A hot fiance (Alison Brie), a large house staffed with under appreciated (and likely under paid) migrant workers and has just been offerred a partnership at his Wall Street firm by his boss, and soon to be father-in-law, Martin (Craig T. Nelson). Things couldn't be going better for James, that is until a police raid on his home during his birthday party turns his entitled lifestyle upside down. After quickly being convicted for money laundering, he finds himself 30 days away from a 10 year residence in San Quentin penitentiary where his over priledged behind is likely going to be raped and murdered.
Then there is Darnell, a hard working family man who owns and operates a very small carwash in the same parking garage James' firm is at. With aspirations of one day taking his business out of the garage and turning into a full fledged business someday, Darnell is always on the lookout for anyway to earn the seed money for his business plans and when he finds weary and distraught James King living in the trunk of his own car he seizes the opportunity. James, thinking Darnell is fresh out of prison due simply to the color of his skin (like most entitled white men), offers him a deal. If he teaches him how to survive in prison then he will pay him thirty thousand dollars, the exact same amount Darnell needs. Despite never spending one solitary day behind bars his entire life, he proceeds to teach James how to get hard for prison.
Will Ferrell is a fairly reliable actor when it comes to comedies. His filmography has some stinkers but overall it is a pretty solid library of work. Kevin Hart on the other hand hasn't been in the spotlight nearly as long as Ferrell despite being around for some time now playing in a number of films in smaller parts (he was the thug leader in that Matthew McConaughey/Kate Hudson movie Fool's Gold). But both actors have a certain pedigree at this point in their careers that their fanbase expects and they usually prevail despite not every film hitting that sweet spot we always hope for.
Get Hard is just such a film where both actors have shown up with their A game but are let down by an often uninspired script full of obvious gay and ethnic jokes that you can see coming a mile away. In this day and age is it really that funny when a white man reacts like he is about to be mugged when a black man taps on the window? Or how about the idea that a black man must have gone to jail because statistics say that one out of every three black men will be incarcerated at least once in their life? Sure, some of you reading this may get a chuckle or two out of those easy jokes, but when the entire film revolves around the idea that a white guy's gang name is Mayo (get it, cause he is white like mayonnaise?) and we are supposed to laugh hysterically at it, the whole thing just feels lazy.
Of course these jokes have the added benefit of talent like Ferrell and Hart delivering them in ways that only they could. Seeing a white guy trying to act hard and get ready for jail isn't inherently funny, but Will Ferrell's penchant for throwing himself into any ludricrous situation for a laugh might make you think it is. Take for instance the moment when Darnell is trying to get James ready for gay sex in prison. Seeing a man force himself to put another man's penis in his mouth wouldn't be nearly as amusing if it weren't for Ferrell's unparelled ability to vocalize every single one of the thoughts he is having at the moment as he stares directly at the shaft he so desperately believes he needs to put in his mouth.
The same can be said for Hart though, who isn't given nearly as many gloriously ridiculous situations as that but also takes his mediocre material and runs with it. During his training, Darnell has transformed James' house into a mock prison and thus must make him believe he is indeed incarcerated with some dangerous felons who want to kill him. Hart then proceeds to take on not one, not two, but three distinct personalities as he pushes Ferrell around the tennis court turned prison yard. It's a sequence that works simply because of the enthusiasm Hart puts into his performance and likely a bit of improvisational work as well, but never tales full advantage of such a silly situation which is a recurring thought for the entire film.
There are some jokes that work regardless of the talent involved as well, albeit few and far between. Probably the most successful moments are the running gags that keep popping up such as Darnell's story of how he went to prison which sounds suspiciously like the plot from Boyz N the Hood and the "Keister" method of hiding your valuables are definitely some highlights. James' forced transformation into a black man is also funny at certain points, such as the throwaway line when he tells his ex-fiancé that she has a white girls ass and his inability to call Darnell the "N' word to try and fit in with a group of white Nazi's and Darnell's instinctual reaction provide some small pockets of laughs, but for the most part the material is only as funny as either actor makes it.
However, even with a premise as ripe with comedic potential as this, it is let down by the aforementioned low brow jokes and how it squanders such great material for what amounts to a conventional and by the numbers conclusion. All the easy jokes and missed opportunities can be forgiven for the most part, but what seriously cripples it is the fact that James never goes to prison (at least not in the way that it is implied). Yes, that may sound like a big spoiler (trust me, it's not) but if you have even half a brain you will figure out early on that James will never go to jail and that him being trained for prison is all sort of pointless and that the filmmakers forgot to give us the punchline to the real joke, which is actually seeing James try to survive prison.
The whole film begins to feel like a layup without anyone ever planning on being there for the slamdunk when you realize James is safe from a life in prison. For an R rated film, it sure doesn't take nearly as many chances as it should which is even more surprising considering how Will Ferrell usually basks in an opportunity to take his films (and characters) to places for a laugh (just look at the whole blind joke in Anchorman 2 for example). Sadly though that was never the intent here, the only intent was to make a film built on the idea of what would happen if James was forced with the "idea" of going to prison as opposed to the much more interesting reality of him actually "going" to prison.
Its clear that the filmmakers and studio were going after a certain audience here and by giving them the happy ending they likely wanted was the safe route to travel. However, fans for both actors could have handled a slightly downbeat ending. Making James go to prison could have been the character's real redemption if Ferrell decided to play him like the idiot we meet in the beginning all the way to the end. The film then becomes an allegory for it's own premise, which is that it too needed to find someone help it get hard but unlike James, it went to theaters unprepared and thus got its ass kicked.
Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart have a lot of chemistry with each other and both deliver performances that are far superior to the material they are working with. The result is a film that isn't nearly as hard as it thinks it is and when put up against other films from either actor is quickly revealed to be the prison bitch that it is. If you are fan of either actor chances are you will find some mild amusement with Get Hard, everyone else should just steer clear and wait to see these two talented comedians working with material that is at or even near their same level.