SXSW Film Review: ‘Get Hard’

Get Hard will ferrell kevin hart

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart deserve better than this tired excuse for an odd-couple comedy.

If you’re disturbed by white-collar crime, but not quite as disturbed as you are by gay sex, then congratulations: You might possess just the right combo of social conscience and unexamined homophobia needed to fully enjoy “Get Hard.” Not even two of America’s most reliable funnymen can eke consistent laughs out of this sloppy odd-couple comedy about a wrongly convicted millionaire (Will Ferrell) who asks the nearest black guy (Kevin Hart) to toughen him up in preparation for a decade behind bars — a premise that allows for a few timely jabs at racial oppression and class disparity, though it’s ultimately undone by some of the ugliest gay-panic humor to befoul a studio release in recent memory. None of this will likely matter a whit to Ferrell’s and Hart’s fan bases, which are probably big enough to keep “Get Hard” from going too soft commercially.

“Success is a mountain,” filthy-rich hedge-fund manager James (Ferrell) is fond of declaring, and it would appear that he has reached the summit. He shares his palatial Bel Air digs with his beautiful, spoiled fiancee (Alison Brie); meanwhile, his boss (Craig T. Nelson), who also happens to be his future father-in-law, has just made him a partner in the firm. One of the movie’s better jokes is that a wealthy, entitled white man in James’s position will automatically assume the worst of a black man in a hoodie; that guy would be Darnell (Hart), a hard-working small-business owner who’s trying to save up the $30,000 he needs to start his own car wash, in hopes of earning a better living for himself, his wife (Edwina Findley) and their young daughter (Ariana Neal).

As scripted by director Etan Cohen (who shared writing duties with “Key and Peele” showrunners Jay Martel and Ian Roberts), the movie’s opening scenes offer an appreciably scathing vision of One Percent excess, complete with a Latino gardener (Erick Chavarria) who scowls behind James’s (frequently naked) back. By contrast, Darnell and his family enjoy a cramped but cozy existence in Crenshaw, where his daughter passes through metal detectors every day on her way to class. But soon the tables are turned, as James is arrested on charges of securities fraud and embezzlement; convinced of his innocence, he turns down a plea bargain and winds up sentenced to 10 years in maximum-security prison.

Abandoned by his fiancee and eventually her father, and with only a month to go before he heads to San Quentin, James turns to Darnell for help; after all, given the statistic that one in three African-American men will be thrown in jail during his lifetime, surely his one black friend must know a thing or two about what it’s like behind bars. And so, with a promise of $30,000 for his services, Darnell willingly pretends to be an ex-con and spend the next month teaching James to bulk up and become as fierce and intimidating as possible. Because everyone knows what happens to flabby, defenseless men who go to prison — and just in case you don’t know, rest assured that “Get Hard” will disabuse you of your ignorance and then some.

“You need to suck a d—,” Darnell tells James, preparing him for the reality that life in prison will be all rape, all the time, and paving the way for the movie’s most objectionable scene. There are some schools of thought, of course, which might contend that nothing could be funnier than the sight of Will Ferrell falling to his knees in a toilet stall and getting slapped in the face with another dude’s junk, and they may well have a point. But what makes this particular sequence so noxious isn’t just the familiar specter of gay panic, which for better and for worse has become a pillar of American screen comedy. It’s the coy, cynical disgust with which the scene is framed, featuring just enough genital exposure (it might have been spliced in by Tyler Durden) to presumably freak out the target audience without jeopardizing the R rating. The movie tries to strike a tolerant pose after the fact, but it’s a weak ruse; frankly, the virtual-reality sodomy in the recent “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” was handled in more enlightened fashion.

There’s a similar crudeness to the recurring gag in which James stashes sharp objects up his rectum, or the extended sequence in which Darnell gives James a crash course in prison-yard sociology, which requires that Hart rattle off one thuggish ethnic impersonation after another. Still, the movie’s racial humor is a bit harder to write off than its sexual politics, even if the embarrassing blunders and the almost accidental insights seem to go hand-in-hand: When James dresses up as Lil’ Wayne for a crucial protection meeting with Darnell’s gangleader cousin (charismatic rapper-actor Tip “T.I.” Harris), you’re not sure whether to nod approvingly at the critique of cultural misappropriation, or to shake your head when a black guy mistakes a reference to “Balzac” for “ball sac.”

A setpiece in which our heroes wind up raiding a lair of white supremacists feels as pointless and toothless as the movie’s limp endgame, in which Darnell and James go on a numbskull quest to prove the latter’s innocence. Whatever one makes of “Get Hard’s” contribution to our ongoing national debate about race, class and sexuality, there’s no denying that too much of it simply feels cheap, flailing and tired: First-time feature director Cohen mostly leaves Ferrell and Hart to their rambunctious devices, and they manage a vigorous, affectionate chemistry that simply cries out for a smarter, less objectionable vehicle. It really shouldn’t be this hard.

SXSW Film Review: 'Get Hard'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Headliners), March 16, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. release and presentation in association with Ratpac-Dune Entertainment of a Gary Sanchez production. Produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy. Executive producers, Ravi Mehta, Kevin Messick, Jessica Elbaum, Steven Mnuchin. Co-producer, Robert J. Dohrmann.

Crew

Directed by Etan Cohen. Screenplay, Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Cohen; story, Adam McKay, Martel, Roberts. Camera (color), Tim Suhrstedt; editor, Mike Sale; music, Christophe Beck; music supervisor, Gabe Hilfer; production designer, Maher Ahmad; art director, Kelly Curley; set decorator, Gene Serdena; set designer, Dave Kelsey; costume designer, Shay Cunliffe; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), David Wyman; sound designer, George Anderson; re-recording mixers, Elmo Weber, Brad Sherman; special effects coordinators, John S. Baker, Bob Riggs; visual effects supervisor, Bruce Jones; visual effects producer, Jacob Eaton; visual effects, Hollywood Visual Effects, Method Studios, Scarecrow VFX; stunt coordinators, Steve Ritzi, Lex D. Geddings; assistant director, Richard Cowan; second unit director, Bruce Jones; second unit camera, Lawrence Karman; casting, Allison Jones.

With

Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson, Dan Bakkedahl, Edwina Findley, Greg Germann, Ariana Neal.

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  1. nerevar59 says:

    Really? You honestly think sodomy can be handled in a good way?

  2. chris senkbeil says:

    To say this movie is disparaging to anyone is obviously a statement made by a person who does not understand humor. Yes its definitely not as cerebral as a woody allen film, but its not supposed to be, this film is silly and just that. Politically correct humor is left for your 80 year old grandma, and tyler perry.

  3. Tom says:

    Justin Chang
    Chief Film Critic
    Wow you need a different job, where is the actual review of the movie. This article is nothing but click bait. Get hard is not homophobic. It makes fun of a prison stereotype. Change the situation up a bit and you would see gay men react the same way to the thought of having forced relations with a women. And yes the racial humor is a bit over the top, but again it’s only making fun of stereotypes.

    This is a comedy pure and simple, if you can’t understand what it’s doing you should not be the chief film critic.

  4. JACK says:

    Let’s drop the PC stuff and get real. Not being homophobic, but for 90% of people, gay activity is disgusting, and repulsive, so if a film portrays it that way, I would have no problem with it. You cannot run from reality, which is, for most people, it is a revolting activity. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth, and I can’t help being a heterosexual human being. That’s how normal hetero’s think. And Im black by the way. Blacks are the most anti gay race there is….google it

  5. Mike says:

    So in the first sentence you accuse you readers of being homophobes. You suck.

  6. Angus says:

    Good Lord, is there anything that doesn’t offend you people? Grow some thicker skin. And get a box of tissues for your runny nose, I just bought stock in Kleenex. Make me rich you cry-babies.

  7. Phillip Lake says:

    Will Ferrell is one of the biggest IDIOTS that has ever come out of Hollywood. He is living proof that you don’t have to be any where near talented to be a Californication movie star; all he has is connections with the right (wrong) people. He is not humorous — he is just plain STUPID!! You couldn’t pay me his stinking, non-deserved paycheck to sit through even one of his losing movies.

  8. Michael Wlzien says:

    looks hilarious, stop whining

  9. Bill B. says:

    My God, this sounds terrible.

  10. JJ says:

    Sounds like a dumb fake movie whose poster would have hung on Tracey Jordan’s wall in 30 Rock.

  11. Reader says:

    Another week, another Hart movie. Is this dude not afraid of over-exposure? And Ferrell – still pushing the doofus shtick after all these years (even Steve Martin decided to grow up after his spell). These are generally 2 funny guys – but the trailers for this movie assailing my television have left me shaking my head.

  12. GERON says:

    SOUNDS LIKE A GARBAGE FILM, SHOULD NOT EVEN BE RELEASED, HOW CAN THOSE TWO ASSHOLE ACTORS ALLOW THEIR NAMES TO BE ATTACHED TO SUCH SHIT?

  13. Travis says:

    Why would they show this in Austin? Had to know it wouldn’t go over well.

  14. Why didn’t they just remake ‘Trading Places’ instead of ripping it off?!

    • Lucy says:

      Quite sure this is not a “Trading Places” ripoff. This sounds funny.

      • Tripp Fell says:

        Cripes it’s a ripoff of a ripoff! And by ripoff I mean it’s the EXACT same movie as the film “BIG STAN starring Rob Schneider that was released about 3 years ago.

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