Directed by: Etan Cohen
Premise: A millionaire (Will Ferrell) is convicted of fraud and sentenced to serve time in San Quentin penitentiary. He hires a working class African American (Kevin Hart) to prepare him to survive in prison although his mentor has no experience being incarcerated.
What Works: Several of Will Ferrell’s comedies such as The Other Guys and The Campaign have inserted subtle commentary about politics and recent financial scandals. Get Hard does this as well and it addresses these issues more directly. The political content of the movie is primarily about white collar crime and economic justice; Will Ferrell’s character has gathered a very affluent lifestyle through the stock market and his character has a naïve understanding of what actually keeps the poor and working class from ascending to a higher social status. The economic issues tie in neatly with the racial comedy. Kevin Hart plays a working class family man who runs a small car wash business that caters to elite Wall Street types and Will Ferrell’s character assumes that he’s an ex-convict merely on the basis of his skin color and social position. The two men make an agreement in which the small business owner will train the white collar criminal to survive in prison and Hart’s character maintains the illusion that he is an ex-con by fulfilling all of the stereotypes of people of color. When Get Hard goes for this political humor the movie generally works and it gets laughs through some incisive commentary. It’s too bad the film doesn’t do more of it or follow its concept beyond the most obvious outcomes.
What Doesn’t: The premise of Get Hard positions the movie to be as sharp as Fear of a Black Hat and Blazing Saddles. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t appear to be very interested in the political humor or have no idea what to do with it beyond the obvious. So instead of making the racial and economic humor the primary element of the film and playing it out as a farce, the filmmakers of Get Hard push it to the secondary (and in places the tertiary) priority of the movie. Instead they rely on absurd or stupid humor with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart falling back on their regular shtick. As usual, Ferrell is a naïve man-child and Hart is a squirrelly beta male attempting to pass himself off as an alpha. The bulk of Get Hard is not dedicated to playing out the racial and economic jokes implied by the premise. Instead the filmmakers fill the movie with a steady stream of prison rape and gay panic jokes. Get Hard is predicated on Will Ferrell’s character being terrified that he will get sexually assaulted while in prison and the homophobic humor gets overwhelming because there is so little else to this movie. When Get Hard does get around to playing on racial politics, which it does fleetingly in between prison rape jokes, the issue is muddled. When the racial comedy works, it does so because of a comic misunderstanding. Will Ferrell’s character is so sheltered that he assumes Kevin Hart’s character must be a criminal. But the movie undoes that joke when the action turns to an actual gangbanger played by T.I. This character and his cohorts confirm all of the stereotypes that Ferrell’s character holds and it undermines the foundation of the entire movie. Get Hard also fails to follow through on its convictions in the economic plotline. It’s obvious from the beginning that Ferrell’s character didn’t do what he is accused of and he is unknowingly taking the fall for his boss. This is a wasted opportunity. Had his character actually been a white collar criminal the movie could have been much funnier and it would have given the play on criminality a lot more subversive power. As it is, the movie works through a weak investigative subplot that does not accomplish much in the way of laughs or action.
Bottom Line: Get Hard is a disappointingly lazy movie. The film has the potential to be much more than it is and that would be forgivable if it were funnier but the filmmakers are content to appeal to the lowest common denominator and fall back on unfunny homophobic jokes.
Episode: #536 (April 5, 2015)