GET HARD

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Etan Cohen

Stars: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T Nelson, Greg Germann, Edwina Findley, Ariana Neal, Erick Chavarria, Paul Ben-Victor, John Mayer, John Eyez, Tip T I Harris, Nito Lazrioza.

This odd couple prison buddy comedy sadly misfires on all cylinders.

James King (Will Ferrell) is a self-centred high flyer, a wealthy hedge fund manager who lives in a palatial house, has earned his company millions of dollars and been made a partner at his firm, and has become engaged to the boss’s daughter. But then his world comes crashing down. He is arrested and charged with several counts of fraud and embezzlement. King declares his innocence and believes that the justice system will exonerate him. Unfortunately, King has been made the fall guy of an elaborate corrupt scheme. The judge is willing to make an example of him in an effort to send a strong message that white collar crime and corruption will no longer be tolerated, and sentences King to ten years in San Quentin, a maximum security prison, rather than a minimum security prison. He confines him to house arrest, forces him to wear a tracking monitor, and gives King 30 days to get his affair in order.

But rather than spend the time trying to find out who is responsible for his predicament (although the answer is pretty obvious from the outset) King worries more about the fact that he may get raped by some big black dude while in prison. In desperation he turns to the only black man he knows – Darnell (Kevin Hart), who washes cars in the basement of his office block, believing that he must have spent time in prison.

Darnell is a hard working family man who is initially offended by this assumption. But he willingly goes along after King offers him $30,000 to teach him how to survive in prison. Darnell needs the money so he can move to a better school district and enrol his daughter in a school free of drugs, gang violence and metal detectors at the main entrance.

Thus begins King’s education in how to toughen up and survive prison. Borrowing a few basics from his gangster cousin (rapper Tip T I Harris), Darnell turns King’s mansion into a makeshift prison, with a small cell and barbed wire and a bland prison diet. He even turns the tennis court into a prison exercise yard. And he stages a mock full scale riot, complete with strobe lights, wailing sirens and, for no logical reason, a baboon. But the film’s most uncomfortable and offensive scene sees Darnell take King to a gay restaurant for an education in fellatio.

But it all ends in a climactic confrontation that is as cliched as it is stupid as King and Darnell manage to track down the person responsible for setting him up. It takes Darnell all of about five seconds to spot the key clue that King has blithely overlooked for the past month.

Get Hard was conceived by Ferrell and his regular collaborator Adam McKay (the superior Anchorman, etc), and the script has been written by McKay along with three other writers including television writer Jay Martel and actor turned writer Ian Roberts (Key And Peele, etc), which accounts for its uneven tone. There are a few good sight gags here though.

And if the film was intended as some sort of scathing attack on the corruption of the American Dream, greed and the crass consumerism of contemporary America, it gets lost amidst the uninspired bevy of penis jokes and double entendres. The writers have adopted an anything goes approach to the material, but the bulk of the alleged humour is basically politically incorrect, racist, sexist and homophobic. The procession of lazy jokes at the expense of racial and sexual stereotypes are cringeworthy, and worst of all, both lame and totally unfunny.

Get Hard marks the feature film directorial debut for Etan Cohen, better known as a writer on comedies like Tropic Thunder, Men In Black 3, etc. But here he bludgeons the raunchy and ribald humour into submission with his heavy handed approach.

We’ve seen far superior examples of this mismatched, interracial buddy pairing before (Trading Places, 48 Hours, etc), but here the premise lacks any real spark. There is no real chemistry between the two stars who seem to be trying to outdo each other in shouting out their dialogue. Ferrell usually plays the lovable doofus, a whining, obnoxious, naive and innocent manchild in his films, a role that perfectly suits his screen persona, but here he is simply grating and obnoxious. The hyperactive and motor mouthed Hart continues to prove himself one of the unfunniest men in movies today with another grating and flat performance, and his approach to comic timing lacks any nuances or subtlety whatsoever.

Craig T Nelson is wasted in a thankless and cliched role. Alison Brie (from Community, etc) is also given little to do as Alissa, King’s abrasive, grasping and shallow fiancee. Erick Chavarria (from Eastbound & Down, the recent The DUFF, etc) makes the most of his few scenes as Cecelio, King’s hapless gardener who has been treated pretty badly by the arrogant and clueless King, and who gets a chance for some revenge while assisting Darnell. Edwina Finley and Ariana Neal bring a nice gentle and sympathetic touch to their respective roles as Darnell’s wife and daughter.

But overall Get Hard is pretty dull stuff, and for the most part unfunny and borderline offensive, which seems to pass for comedy these days. Even the most easily pleased of Ferrell’s fans will find Get Hard a missed opportunity and a major disappointment.

★☆

 

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