It’s hard to think of two people on this planet who are funnier than Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. So the idea of pairing the them in some kind of mismatched buddy comedy sounds, at least on paper, like a stroke of genius, especially since the core concept was concocted by Ferrell and his frequent collaborator Adam McKay (who directed Ferrell in "Step Brothers" and both "Anchorman" movies). All of this makes Ferrell and Hart’s "Get Hard" even more of a crushing disappointment. It’s an absolutely horrible, amateurishly assembled comedy that is more offensive than just about anything we’ve seen lately, a non-stop parade of racist, homophobic bile that would be bad enough from any comedian, but coming out of Ferrell and Hart has the effect of watching a childhood hero committing some horrible act.
Again, at the heart of "Get Hard" there’s an idea that has promise. Will Ferrell plays James King, a ridiculously wealthy stock market tycoon in Los Angeles who has it all: a beautiful fiancé (Alison Brie), a wonderful and caring boss/soon-to-be father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson), and a cavernous mansion. But one day, after making his company $28 million on a single transaction and being named partner in the firm, he’s arrested by the FBI on embezzlement and fraud charges. King insists that he’s innocent… but is promptly sentenced to 10 years in jail. In the 30 days he’s given to get his affairs in order, he decides to hire the guy who washes his car, Darnell Lewis (Hart), who he assumes has served time, to get him ready for life behind bars. Shenanigans follow.
This is a great concept for a buddy movie, especially with the twist that Darnell isn’t a thug at all, but instead a budding entrepreneur who is only washing cars because the $30,000 King offered him for the job is enough to allow him to put a down payment on a new house. Darnell doesn’t know the first thing about prison, so the two bumble their way through long-held notions about the prison system without any firsthand knowledge. While this idea occasionally factors into the plot, it’s never properly explored. This movie could be "48 Hours" for a new generation, especially since there’s a kind of half-assed mystery that’s introduced in the last act, allowing for some action sequences, but "Get Hard" is too dumb and artless to even warrant the comparison.
"Get Hard" is, first and foremost, a morally repugnant movie, where virtually every character who appears onscreen is boiled down to a one-note caricature. While the subversion of Hart’s character is a lovely twist, every other black character in the film outside of his family is as broad a stereotype as you can think of, especially the pack of gang bangers led by Darnell’s cousin (played by T.I.). Half of Ferrell’s dialogue is a weird mishmash of racial barbs aimed at being satirical and stuff that is just flat-out racist. But as racist as "Get Hard" is, it’s even more homophobic. This is a movie that uses the word "rape" more than actual movies about rape. It whips itself up into a furious gay panic and never, ever relents in an endlessly one-note gag about the horrors of homosexual sex that runs for the entire movie. This culminates in a sequence so outrageously tone deaf that it should’ve been cut out completely, except that it acts as a major plot point (Ferrell crashes a gay brunch and is so intensely horrified by the thought of oral sex that he doubles down on his thug life training). It is also worth mentioning that "Get Hard" is casually sexist, turning Brie, who is charming and clever and whip smart, into little more than a bubbly sex object meant purely to ogle.
All of this would have been slightly more palatable had the movie at least been made with any degree of professionalism or competency, but it’s not. It’s one of the uglier looking studio movies I’ve seen in some time. It’s washed out and over-lit, with few (if any) visual flourishes, with a script ultimately credited to Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, and director Etan Cohen (a longtime screenwriter making his directorial debut here), that ambles from one lackluster joke or set piece to the next. So many jokes or gags have potential, like how Darnell turns King’s sprawling mansion into a phony prison, but few are actually followed through on. Instead, there are endless scenes where our two main characters talk about rape or try to come up with scary prison yard insults. At 100-minutes-long, the movie is so poorly paced that it feels more like a 10-year prison sentence.
It would be disingenuous to say that "Get Hard" is completely laugh-free, because there were times when I chuckled. This mostly has to do with Hart and Ferrell, who are fine performers even when trapped inside a movie that’s not working. And yet, there are moments sprinkled throughout that threaten to expose the kind of greatness that "Get Hard" could have risen to. In particular, there’s a moment where Hart tries to simulate what life is like in the yard by portraying three separate prisoners at the same time, with Ferrell caught in the middle. It’s jaw-dropping stuff, and a testament to how brilliant both actors are separately, and how, together, they’re downright explosive. Too bad that, for the most part, the material doesn’t serve their collective skills in any way, shape, or form.
It’ll be interesting to see how general audiences take the movie. At the screening at SXSW last night it got thunderous applause, but during the Q&A someone in the audience (rightfully) told the director that the movie was "racist as fuck." If "Get Hard" was actually trying to say something about race relations in 2015 America, or the ever-widening divide between rich and poor, or how gender and sexual stereotypes are persistent even in the face of blurring categorical lines, than perhaps it’s boundary pushing would’ve been more digestible, even necessary. Instead, the film feels angry and bitter, bordering on hateful. "Get Hard" is hard to get through. [D-]