On Tuesday night, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart took the stage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas for the worldwide premiere of their new comedy Get Hard at SXSW. “If you don’t like it, I want you to go out in the street and kill yourself,” Hart said in a sarcastic tone as he asked people to share their reactions with him on social media after the film’s premiere. Indeed, the packed house seemed to like the film a great deal, laughing uproariously throughout the feature film. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as into it as they are, but I wasn’t ready to take a stroll into the middle of Congress Avenue. Though anchored by a charismatic cast, the film fails to deliver on its premise, opting instead for lazy, repetitive bits.
In Get Hard, Will Ferrell plays James King, an obscenely wealthy hedge fund manager played with Ferrell’s signature obliviousness to the realities of the world. All seems to be right in the world for James King: he has a beautiful, domineering, weath-obsessed fiancee (Alison Brie) and her father, the president of his firm (Craig T. Nelson), has just made him a partner in their finance company. All of that changes, though, when James is convicted of financial fraud, embezzlement, and a litany of other white-collar crimes. Rather than take a plea deal, Ferrell chooses to believe in the efficacy of the justice system, for which he is rewarded with a ten-year sentence in a maximum security prison. With only 30 days until he is set to be incarcerated, James’ stops crying long enough to enlist the help of his car-wash guy Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), whom he assumes has been to prison simply due to the pigmentation of his skin and statistical analysis.
While Darnell rises to the occasion and becomes James’ “prison coach,” there’s a slight problem–Darnell knows nothing about “life on the inside.” He is a mild-mannered family man who is only doing this in order to get $30,000 with which to move him and his family to a better part of town and a better school district. Transforming James’ palatial mansion into a makeshift prison, Darnell performs a series of shock-and-awe exercises to turn James from giant whiny manbaby into prison-yard enforcer. Many of the gags–like having Ferrell bench-pressing Hart–are amusing, but some are downright baffling. In one scene, Darnell takes James to a gay brunch hotspot in order to get him over his fear of fellatio. It doesn’t work–both on James and as a compelling piece of comedy–and instead serves only as a reason to show Matt Walsh’s penis.
As part of a last-ditch effort to prepare James for his trip up the river, Darnell introduces him to his cousin Russell (Tip “T.I. Harris), who runs a gang called the Crenshaw Kings that could offer James protection on the inside. While some of these scenes are enjoyable–particularly when James is educating two gang members about the stock market–they remain too superficial to make any real sort of statement about racial politics or the realities of the American justice system. Still, it’s always a pleasure to see Ron Funches (Undateable) on the big screen. Here’s hoping he’ll get more work going forward.
Many people have made much ado about whether or not the film is racist. By its very premise–a clueless Caucasian white-collar executive who is sentenced to 10 years in prison hires a seemingly random black man to toughen him up–one might surmise that. During the Q&A that followed the film’s screening, one person actually asked director Etan Cohen if he was nervous to present the “racist as f–k film.” Others have decried the film as homophobic, given that one of its driving narrative forces is that Will Ferrell is training in order not to get raped in prison. While these are certainly valid reactions–after all, comedy is nothing if not subjective–they weren’t what rubbed me the wrong way about the film.
Comedy is a genre designed to push boundaries and make us a little uncomfortable. We live in an outrage culture in which things like privilege and political correctness must be taken into account, but the true failure of Get Hard is that its comedy is lazy. Written and directed by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy) alongside Key and Peele writers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts, Get Hard attempts to pursue a satirical angle on things like race and income inequality, and delivers some solid laughs and a few good scenes (“I’m not trying to appropriate your culture,” says Ferrell, dressed in the style of Lil Wayne. “That’s great. I’ll tell the others,” Hart shoots back) but its humor fails to rise to the occasion. Rather than using the film as a platform for meaningful satire, it falls back on tired dick jokes and gay panic, which is a shame because the other big-name comedic offerings at SXSW, Trainwreck and Spy, both offered a hard-R comedic experience and had something to say at the same time.
So, the question remains: is Get Hard worth your time? If you’re a massive Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart fan, then yes. It isn’t anything revelatory, but the cast is charming enough even when dealing with asinine subject matter. There are a few big laughs to be had and it’s not a wholly unenjoyable watch. That being said, what you see in the trailer is pretty much all you get, and when you have comedians of this caliber and you bring Cohen’s past work into account, one can’t help but be a little disappointed by the final result.
Rating: 3 out of 5 burritos
Get Hard opens on March 27, 2015
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