You’ve gotta say this about ‘Get Hard’: At least it tries. The folks behind Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s “For the love of god, I don’t want to get raped in prison” comedy really wanted to explore issues like the complex evils of white collar crime and uncomfortable race relations. They also wanted to make potty humor and people getting hurt seem super funny. It’s a high and low comedy conceit that desperately tries to tickle the noggin and scrape the bottom of the barrel simultaneously. About half of the time, it even kind of works. It’s just a shame that no one ever settled on a consistent tone for this movie before they started shooting.
Ferrell stars as a millionaire stock market guy of some sort who leads an empty life in a giant mansion with an idiotic yet beautiful sexual plaything/fiancée (Alison Brie). Everything seems to be going oh-so-well until he gets arrested for some unspecified financial crime. His boss (Craig T. Nelson) desperately attempts to get Ferrell to accept a plea bargain and a year at Club Fed. But Ferrell knows he’s innocent, so he goes to court and ends up sentenced to ten years in federal prison. He knows what that means: rape of the bum-bum, and he doesn’t want that to happen. So he finds the one black guy he knows (Kevin Hart) and asks him to teach him how to survive in the joint, just assuming that he’s been there through racial profiling. Hart is actually a model citizen and car wash businessman, but he needs money to buy a house and agrees. From there, the training begins with plenty of racial, poopy and gay panic jokes to follow.
The premise actually isn’t that bad. It has a ‘Trading Places’ vibe, and co-writer/director Etan Cohen (no not that one, spelling is crucial) helped find the right smart/stupid balance while co-scripting movies like ‘Idiocracy’ and ‘Tropic Thunder’. You can see why everyone involved thought this concept would work, and the movie even has some big laughs. Unfortunately, those laughs aren’t as consistent as they should be. The storytelling is sloppy at best and incompetent at worst.
Essentially, once the concept is established, the rest of the movie is one big montage with Hart teaching Ferrell how to be tough and black, which is just as intermittently funny and cringe-worthy as it sounds. Some scenes are clever and some are idiotic. Some of Ferrell’s improv is inspired and some of it is outtake material. Sometimes Hart can keep up with his co-star and sometimes he can’t. Sometimes Cohen cleverly makes jokes about the absurdity of prejudice and sometimes he just plays into stereotypes. And much like Ferrell’s ‘The Other Guys‘, the admirable attempt to expose a mainstream audience to the evils of financial crime never quite meshes with a movie that has a reoccurring running gag about hiding things up the bumhole.
Because the movie teeters over the edge of bad taste regularly and quite frankly doesn’t hold together, many will cry foul about it being homophobic, sexist and racist. This isn’t entirely true. Indeed, a few jokes go too far, but the overall intent is to mock offensive perceptions, not reinforce them. Everyone involved in the project clearly meant well and had the best intentions. The failings of the filmmakers are a result of the script not quite hanging together narratively or comedically. But because everyone was trying to be edgy and didn’t quite score the laughs, people will claim its offensive. That’s fair. They can do that. It’s hard to defend why a joke isn’t funny.
At least the folks behind ‘Get Hard’ were trying to push the boundaries and explore some ugly issues within the realm of an R-rated studio comedy. Unfortunately, there are no As for effort in comedy. The audience either laughs or doesn’t, and ‘Get Hard’ just doesn’t score enough.