AUSTIN – It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads me on a regular basis that I am a Will Ferrell fan.
Even before he made the jump to leading man in the world of features, I was already fully onboard. There's just something about the particular brand of lunacy that so many of his characters embody that entertains me completely. There are few things I enjoy more than seeing what happens when Ferrell and Adam McKay are turned loose on something together, two halves of one mutant brain, the combination of the two resulting in something remarkable.
Etan Cohen, you are no Adam McKay.
I actually do like some of Cohen's work. “Idiocracy,” for example, is a script I adore, co-written by Cohen and Mike Judge, and “Tropic Thunder” is tremendous. But “Get Hard” is impossible to defend thanks to a disastrous choice made early on in the development process. Imagine if “Tropic Thunder” had tried to mine laughs not from the insanity of an actor who would actually transform himself into permanent blackface to play a role but from the idea of blackface itself. Suddenly, “Tropic Thunder” gets a lot less funny because we're being asked to laugh at the wrong target. You can make a joke about anything funny as long as you have the right angle on it.
“Get Hard” tells the story of James King (Ferrell), a super-rich white collar moron who is about to marry into the family business, just one more move in what appears to have been a blessed career. When he is framed for insider trading, though, and for other major money mis-management, his entire world is turned upside down, and a judge decides to make an example of him, sentencing him to do hard time in a state penitentiary. Terrified, James decides to reach out to someone to teach him how to survive prison. Since Darnell (Kevin Hart), who runs a car wash business in the parking garage of the building where King works, is the only black person James knows, he offers to play Darnell to teach him everything there is to know about prison.
Here's the thing… there's a really funny “Blazing Saddles” version of this movie to be made at a time when we're looking at places like Ferguson and we see how substantial a role race still plays in matters of justice, but for the film to work, Darnell has to be the hero, and James King has got to get punctured and deflated. Instead, we got the 1983 version of the movie, where the entire two-hour joke is “Gay rape is hilarious!”
Think I'm exaggerating? I have to work a little blue to make one of my points here, so be warned that this might not be, strictly speaking, safe for work.
There comes a point in the film where Darnell gives up on being able to teach James how to fight to protect himself. Instead, he tells him, and I quote, “You are going to have to learn to suck dick.” To that end, they go to a gay bar in West Hollywood, where James picks up a guy (played by Matt Walsh, from UCB and “Veep”), takes him to the men's room, and for about five minutes, attempts to put the guy's penis in his mouth, gagging the whole time. By the end of the scene, he is weeping, with Walsh's penis resting flat against his face.
There is nothing this movie can imagine that is worse than gay sex, it seems to be saying. How in the year 2015, as we see over 30 states finally recognizing same-sex marriage, can we possibly justify this thing? How can anyone sit in the theater and just laugh and laugh and laugh as the movie repeatedly screams, “Oh my god, gay people are so gross!”
Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell seem to have a decent rapport onscreen, and there are moments where they do score some laughs just because of the interplay between them. Based on height alone, they're a pretty great visual gag. But this film is so relentless in how wrong it is that I eventually gave up. I just couldn't bring myself to laugh at something that will reinforce hatred, that plays into this idea that gay sex is somehow inherently more disgusting than regular sex. When we talk about homophobia, that's exactly what this is. Sorry, but as great as sex feels and as important as it is to every person's happiness, stigmatizing anyone for enjoying themselves in a safe, consensual way seems morally offensive to me.
Competently made but morally repellent, “Get Hard” may be my least favorite Will Ferrell feature film. It doesn't really matter, of course, since Will works so often, but it does feel strange to simply intensely dislike something where he has such a prominent role. I have no doubt Warner Bros. will make a lot of money with it, but considering what kind of audience would embrace a film that so blatantly dislikes gay people, they should not feel good about it.
“Get Hard” opens in theaters everywhere March 27, 2015.