March 27, 2015

Get Hard

Exactly who is carrying whom?

Grade: C
Director: Etan Cohen
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley Dickerson and T.I.
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Given the fact that Get Hard is premised around the offensive prejudices held by one of its lead characters, it’s sadly ironic that the film spends the bulk of its running time and attempts at comedy exacerbating racial, gender and sexual stereotypes. It starts with the inherent double entendre in the movie’s title, which is repeated to exhaustion throughout. It ends with a climax whose utter laziness is preferable to offending another demographic before the closing credits roll.

The teaming of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart sounds like a match befitting the comedic zeitgeist, and even through this muck of a movie, that impression proves accurate. Ferrell plays James King, a wealthy hedge-fund manager engaged to a spoiled trophy wife-to-be (Alison Brie) whose father (Craig T. Nelson) is James’ billionaire boss. James’ elitist life is upended when he’s framed for securities fraud and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin. Fearing the perils of prison life, James hires Darnell (Hart), his car washer and thus the only black person anywhere in his orbit, to teach him how to “get hard” and survive on the inside.

Here’s the hook: James presumes Darnell has been to prison because, well, he’s black. But Darnell’s closest brush with the law is inserting himself into a recitation of the plot to Boyz n the Hood. With the guidance of his gangbanger cousin Russell (the rapper T.I.), Darnell morphs into a state pen sensei training James on the fine arts of mad dog faces, crafting shivs and “keistering.”

There are obvious aspirations of Trading Places at play here—a scene where James and Darnell crash an aryan biker hangout also borrows from 48 Hrs. Writer-director Etan Cohen—who once wrote Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder, but also Men in Black 3—squanders the marriage of Ferrell’s blowhard doofus and Hart’s machine-gun mania on base humor with broad resonance. Beyond the race and gender gags, the plot constantly returns to prison rape yucks and a conception of even causal homosexuality centered around predatory practices and bathroom rendezvouses.

What’s equally regrettable is that there’s actually the kernel of an insightful comedy here. You glimpse it when James educates Russell’s Crenshaw Kings pals on the vagaries of white-collar crime, leading one to astutely declare that its even more “gangsta” than standard issue stickups.

These flashes can’t overcome the rank wrongheadedness of a script that compounds its insipidness with jokes and set-ups that will feel dated by the time you reach the theater’s exit door. It’s an Adam Sandler movie with funnier front men—not exactly the trading places the filmmakers had in mind.