by Philip Price
The question I kept repeating to myself as “Get Hard” continued on and on was how could such a supposedly intelligent man be so stupid? There is a hint of something interesting in the beginning though so let's begin there. It is suggested in the opening credits sequence as the striking comparisons between the morning routines of the wealthy and the working class are displayed, much of the time in split screen, that the balance is more than off. It is imagery that much of who I imagine the audience to be will both recognize from both their real-life experiences and the dreams they have of one day hitting it rich. It demonstrates the reality of our routines and the fantasy that feels just out of reach. The most appealing thing about this choice though is not only that it establishes the worlds of our two leading characters, but also because it evokes a reaction. It is a moment of recognition, one that forces thinking audience members to contemplate not who each of these men are today, but the roads they traveled to arrive at their current destination. Even as the film continues through to after the title card it further demonstrates the reasons these two mean have landed in their current situations are due as much to opportunity and association as they are hard work. This begs the question of how much of a clean slate do we all start out with and if hard work is truly all it takes to get to where you want to be or does having the right people in the right places help significantly. The answer is, of course, pretty clear and it's obvious “Get Hard” knows that, but beyond this observation and the ability to display it provocatively one would think the film might delve into what it thinks of this predicament, an unavoidable one, really and use that fuel to create satire from the actual downfalls of our society. Instead, writer Etan Cohen's directorial debut, offers little more than a few inspired moments. There are some solid ideas that are glimpsed by the jokes that really land, but much of the time the film skates by on its over-reliance on vulgarity and close-ups of Ferrell doing his schtick with nothing but the hope you'll laugh at anything Ferrell does supporting it.
We are first introduced to James King (Will Ferrell) who is an extremely rich hedge fund manager. He works for Martin (Craig T. Nelson) who decides to make his future son-in-law a partner at his firm and seemingly sets James on an unbridled path to riches beyond imagination with the love of Martin's daughter, Alissa (Alison Brie), as something of a bonus. On the other side of things is Darnell (Kevin Hart) who runs his own car washing company in the garage connected to James' building. Darnell was born into the lower end of the economic spectrum and has seemingly been fighting to get out ever since. He has a modest home with his wife Rita (Edwina Findley Dickerson) and daughter Makayla (Ariana Neal), but he wants more than anything to get his family into a safer neighborhood and Makayla into a safer school that requires him getting a $30,000 loan his credit won't allow for. James is quickly accused of fraud and embezzlement after his promotion and despite maintaining his innocence and not taking a plea bargain the judge still finds him guilty and decides to make an example of his "kind" by sentencing him to 10 years at San Quentin, with only 30 days to get his affairs in order. In this interim James hires Darnell on the false assumption he's been to prison to prepare him for what he is set to encounter. The hook, and maybe the most impressive thing the film does, is that it doesn't fall prey to its own play of sending-up stereotypes by casting Hart as an actual gangster and former inmate that can properly train James. Instead, Hart's Darnell is more in line with a Huxtable than that of the racial cliché James has assigned him. This conflict of interest is intended to be the heart of the comedy and some of the best moments do in fact come from it, but the rest of the time we are relegated to watching how unprepared Ferrell is for prison through a rush of rape jokes.
My biggest problem with “Get Hard” though is not that it doesn't completely utilize the story it's put in place to convey a commentary on equal opportunity, but that it doesn't do anything really funny with an inherently humorous and pretty clever premise. More to the point is that it doesn't do anything funny when it has the likes of both Ferrell and Hart at its disposal. More than the hook of the story is the hook of the team-up between these two giants of comedy. Ferrell is the veteran funnyman who has been consistently reliable and has a loyal stable of fans even when he goes outside of his collaborations with Adam McKay into the world of broad comedies. Hart is the hottest comic on the planet right now and has been pumping out features and stand-up specials so often it is impossible to avoid his influence. Putting these two together is a genius idea and a match made in comedy heaven, at least conceptually. While Coen and his stars were granted an R-rating and the free reign to basically do whatever they pleased there has been an air of hesitation around the film since the first trailer debuted due simply to the fact it seems to be trying way too hard. As the film continues to play out and we see where things are going (which, admittedly, one could guess from the beginning) we can see the solid chemistry between the two leads really develop. This is cause for some greater laughs in the latter half of the film, especially in scenes dealing with Darnell's cousin Russell as played by T.I. For much of the film though there is no organic sense of funny coming from anywhere. Don't get me wrong, both Hart and Ferrell are going for it, but more times than not the jokes fall flat and worse, amount to little in the end. Whether what is presented might offend or not comedies can get away with anything and typically, even with the most straight-laced of viewers, win over anyone as long as it is actually funny and “Get Hard” is just not consistently funny enough to satisfy or even justify the lengths it goes to in order to get its laughs.
If you think the double entendre of the title is obvious the comedy of the actual film gets no better as the over-reliance on the F-bomb and Ferrell's ability to improv ridiculous phrases in moments of stress are abundant. While much of what Ferrell is given to do is asinine and more than sophomoric at least he has something to play with. Hart, unfortunately, is strapped with playing the straight man and has been stripped of all that typically makes him appealing. I largely enjoy what Hart has to offer and was pleasantly surprised by The Wedding Ringer earlier this year when he took the opportunity to work with a largely white cast in the realm of an R-rating and completely drove that film and the comedy that burgeoned from each scene while finding a fine foil in Josh Gad. I had hopes that “Get Hard” would only push this kind of pairing further and to greater heights as matching Hart with someone such as Ferrell could presumably only create fireworks. Rather than have the two play off one another to the degree that the comfortability and the chemistry is felt the film instead is so intent on making something of its intended satire that it sacrifices both the intelligence of its content and its comedy in the process. There is no doubt much of this is largely due to the leadership of first-time director Coen who is quick to lean on Ferrell for laughs and goes all-out in the search for those guaranteed laughs, but keeps the substance behind them on the back burner and the forcefulness of the jokes front and center so that we more times than not wince rather than laugh. The under-utilized Hart is only given one stand-out scene to really show what happens when you mix his brand of comedy with Ferrell's and even then the opportunity to create something special in capturing a display of sheer comic force in a single take is spoiled by the constant changing of angles. There is simply no artistic merit to the film, there is no weight to the issues that are being discussed and no relevant ideas being brought to the topics the film is discussing, but a film like this didn't even have to have all those things; it simply had to be funny and it can't even do that often enough to keep us distracted from everything else that is wrong with the film.