Get Hard feels like someone had a great pitch for a smart, satirical comedy about race that got greenlit so fast he had to try to write it on the car ride to the set. There are a few funny bits, but it’s hard to maintain much momentum when most of the script pages just say “Will Ferrell does something funny, hopefully!”
Ferrell plays a hedge fund-type dude who’s about to do 10 years in the can for fraud. To help prepare himself for the inside, he hires the closest thing he knows to an ex-con, which turns out to be the black guy who washes his car, Darnell (Kevin Hart). Only Darnell is no thug, he’s a “Cliff Huxtable ass pussy,” according to his gangbanger cousin played by T.I. (because even the most boringly middle class blacks have thug cousins, apparently). It’s Hitch meets the end credits of The Good Guys, a sort of thinking man’s The New Guy, and the premise has potential, or at least it would have if Etan Cohen and company had any idea what kind of movie they were making.
For instance, it’s hard to do smart, edgy race comedy while constantly reminding us that the title is a boner pun. Get it? “Get Hard?” You’re not laughing. Are you sure you got it? You know how a man’s penis “gets hard” when he’s aroused, and also the movie is about a man trying to get another man “hard,” so that he can compete with all the other “hard men” in prison? I like boner humor, but not if it comes with a Power Point presentation. HAHA, CUM!
There are different levels of believability in comedy, and you sort of have to pick one. The three stooges don’t really work in a Woody Allen movie, Will Ferrell in Elf doesn’t exist in the same reality as Will Ferrell in Old School, and so forth. Get Hard tries to be satire, sitcom, slapstick, and rom-com from scene to scene. Are you making Veep or Paul Blart? Will Ferrell can’t represent the one percent and then spend the next 20 minutes rubbing his balls on house plants. Get Hard opens with social commentary, gradually turns into a weird sort of rom-com, then finishes in a schmaltzy hug-fest with all the depth of a Starbucks cup campaign. The third act feels like something the first act would’ve made fun of.
In the absence of set plays, Will Ferrell just sort of looks around, sees none of his teammates setting picks or cutting towards the basket, and has to start heaving 35-footers. Occasionally he’ll swish one, like when he’s learning to talk trash. “You’re a disappointment to your parents! Who I F*CKED!” But for the most part, the most successful scenes are the one or two that actually build on the premise, of a black guy having to fulfill a clueless white guy’s expectations about blackness. Like when Kevin Hart has to improvise a lie about how he got locked up, and ends up describing the plot of Boyz N The Hood. It’s one of the funnier Kevin Hart scenes I’ve seen, because it utilizes his manic, drama club hamminess in a way that doesn’t feel like he has to jump outside the script to get laughs.
Mostly though, Get Hard flails around grasping for any type of humor it can, making it feel both desperate and derivative. Will Ferrell teaches TI’s crew of thugs about the stock market? I liked this joke better on The Chappelle Show when it was called Wu Tang Financial. Dorky Will Ferrell falls for the proverbial big-bootied black girl? Liked that bit better when it was named LaFawnduh in Napoleon Dynamite. Actually no, that was the worst joke in that movie too, which at least had the excuse of having been written by Mormons. That some gangster chick falls in love with banker Will Ferrell is a joke that’s cute at best and is only believable in the context of a Kevin James movie or a Geico commercial. Is that split-second half chuckle really worth worth destroying the context of your other jokes?
There’s been a lot of criticism about a scene where Kevin Hart’s character takes Will Ferrell’s to gay brunch to teach him how to suck dick to prepare him for prison. I’m not sure not wanting to be prison raped counts as “gay panic,” or whether characters who otherwise aren’t paragons of tolerance finding sucking dick “icky” speaks to homophobia on the part of the filmmakers. Of course, “is it offensive or is it just lame” isn’t exactly a sociological discussion I want to be drawn into either. Let’s just say that it’s an American Pie-style gross-out gag shoehorned into a movie that started out feeling like it wanted to be a Chappelle-style race satire. It’s the kind of desperation move you pull when you’re terrified the audience might spend a split second thinking. And in that way, comedy is like prison: the audience will turn on you if you show fear.
Vince Mancini is a writer and (average at best) comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.