Movie review: Get Hard
Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart successfully skewer racist stereotype in a surprisingly edgy story of a banker looking to survive a stint in prison
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Ariana Neal, Edwina Findley Dickerson
Directed by: Etan Cohen
Running time: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
The ads make it look moronic and offensive, but Get Hard is surprisingly soft in its approach to undeniable social ills, whether it’s the income gap, systemic racism or the very real possibility of experiencing violent sexual abuse in prison.
In fact, this buddy comedy featuring the beautifully dissimilar duo of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart feels like a more “mature” version of Superbad – providing the “mature” part applies strictly to the chronological age of the two leads – because the movie is a juvenile study in both male friendship and masculine fear.
It’s also a very subtle and rather clever critique of the dominant white culture, which is why Get Hard doesn’t really deserve the hate-storm it’s created via a poorly conceived ad campaign that plays on racial stereotype.
Director Etan Cohen was the screenwriter responsible for Idiocracy, probably the funniest look at human devolution and planet degradation ever created, so we can give him benefit of the doubt on the social justice score, and look a little deeper at the fabric of what appears to be a cheap gag movie trading on the race and class divide.
James King (Ferrell) is a trader at a wealth management firm in Los Angeles, where he lives in a spacious Bel Air home with a predictably buxom bride-to-be (Alison Brie).
As a white man with lots of money, a great job security and access to all the best things in life, James really is a king of the modern world.
Darnell (Kevin Hart) on the other hand, is closer to serf. A self-made businessman who made good despite coming from a bad ‘hood, Darnell is on the verge of buying his first home.
He only needs another $30K, but the bank won’t give him financing. He even begs the loan sharks to prey on him, but they won’t do it. Darnell feels completely stuck until James gets in trouble with market regulators and ends up sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison.
He’s off to San Quentin and every bone in his body is slowly turning to gelatin as thoughts of being manhandled by his bunkmates float through his psyche. He needs a trainer, a jail coach, a man who can give him tips on how to survive on the inside, so
James immediately asks the only black man he knows: Darnell.
Now, this is where the accusations of racism come in because James is assuming any black man has been behind bars – which is racist. But this is Will Ferrell playing a white guy who is ignorant of how racist he really is, which in the end, is spot-on-satire.
Similarly, Kevin Hart gets to join the satirical piñata party as the black guy who exploits white ignorance by charging James $30K to get him ready for the joint.
What follows is part Rocky, part Trading Places and part Superbad as two unlikely buddies start to bond in surprising, sometimes shocking, sometimes gentle ways.
The gurgling, infantile comedy froths on the surface as Ferrell dresses up in outlandish gangsta style and tries to look tough, but the deeper threads of social commentary ripple through every frame.
For instance, one of the running gags features all of James’s domestic staff – from gardener to housekeeper – wearing his cast-off souvenir T-shirts, discolored from the wash, and splattered with slogans such as “I Rang the Bell at the NYSE” and “The Too Big to Fail Caribbean Cruise ’08.”
It’s not in your face, because it’s often obscured by Ferrell’s bare, hairy behind, but the clever side of Get Hard slices right into the lives of everyday people, struggling to survive day to day, whether they’re headed for the big house or not.
Through Ferrell and Hart’s foolery, even the ‘homophobic’ practice sequence for toilet-stall fellatio technique felt more funny than offensive because both comedians have a knack for showing off the right brand of vulnerability in the moment.
It allows us to relate to the chaos on an emotional level because the two leads generate real chemistry. Despite all the differences that define their respective characters, they are both reading from the same comic page, making every single scene a ridiculous send-up of social assumptions – including the notion that all Will Ferrell movies are for morons.
THE EX-PRESS, March 30, 2015