The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Get Hard

Get Hard
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Will Ferrell tries to toughen up for an upcoming stint in San Quentin in Get Hard, a curiously low-on-laughs comedy that costars Kevin Hart.

James King (Ferrell) is a very successful hedge fund manager who is so oblivious about other human beings that he doesn’t seem to realize: (1) that his casual nudity is off-putting to his household staff, (2) that his fiancée Alissa (Alison Brie) is a terrible human being, and (3) that he is being set up for fraud and who is doing the setting up. When he is arrested, James is dumbfounded and so certain that a jury will have the good sense to see his innocence that he turns down the deal he’s initially offered (one year in a minimum-security jail). Naturally, all the judge, jury and countless protesters outside the courthouse see is that James is another thieving rich dude, and he is sentenced to 10 years hard time in San Quentin.
Devastated and terrified by his forthcoming imprisonment (he’s given a month, with ankle monitor, to get his affairs in order), he asks Darnell Lewis (Hart) how he survived prison.
What Darnell attempts, at first, to explain is that he’s never gone to prison and James’ assumption that he has, based solely on the fact Darnell is black, is really quite racist. But Darnell is also a businessman, the hard-working owner of the car wash service in the parking garage of James’ company’s building. Darnell is desperate to move his family to a better neighborhood so his daughter can attend a school without metal detectors, but despite his pleas to a predatory lending company to “please, prey on me” he’s several thousand dollars short of getting the necessary mortgage — $30,000 short, actually, which happens to be the amount James offers Darnell to teach him how to survive prison.
Thus, using mostly the prison-related knowledge pop culture has given anyone with a few episodes of Oz under his belt, Darnell tries to prepare James, mostly by getting him beaten up a lot. (There’s other, more R-rated stuff Darnell tries to prepare James for that leads to some scenes that are, let’s say, moderately homophobic. Like, not malicious, but definitely not going to make it on a highlights reel of How Far We’ve Come.)
You know a comedy is in trouble when you find yourself pondering the source of the humor. James is smart enough to make millions but dumb enough not to know he’s being played and naive enough to trust his boss (Craig T. Nelson) — who is also Alissa’s father — just because he tells James to call him “dad.” James is obliviously racist enough (again, it’s not malicious, but) to assume Darnell has been to prison but race-sensitive enough that he won’t call Darnell the n-word even when Darnell orders him to do so as practice for joining a white supremacist gang. Hmm, one thinks, mind drifting far from the movie, perhaps James is meant to be the personification of careless privilege — he’s generally oblivious to his advantages but aware enough not to want to be cruel. 
Though it would seem that James is the straight man to all of Darnell’s wacky prison-prep antics, perhaps Darnell is truly the straight man, the one marveling at the head-in-the-clouds-ness of James, whom Ferrell portrays as a mix of eager-to-please nice guy and entitled simpleton. Darnell — business-owning family man who can immediately see who has railroaded James — is much more the audience surrogate. Could there be something sneakily clever in a movie that turns rich white male privilege into the Other? 
There could be, though not in this movie, for all that it had me thinking about the nature of prejudice and wondering which, race or economic status, is really the more significant divider in America. I was thinking about these issues while jokes floated by me like soggy, poorly made paper boats on a muddy stream. I could sense myself noting these jokes — that one’s about the assumption a rich white guy makes, that one’s about the assumption a straight guy makes — without responding. Without laughing, which is what you should be doing at a goofy comedy. 
I’m not sure why Get Hard doesn’t work. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you can see how the situation might have been used to create some subversive comedy and isn’t. Or perhaps it’s because the movie is just in need of another rewrite or two (or perhaps has had one too many). Ferrell and Hart are both likeable enough and I think under different circumstances they are probably also a solid buddy-comedy duo. Get Hard just isn’t that circumstance. C
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material. Directed by Etan Cohen with a screenplay by Jay Martel & Ian Roberts and Etan Cohen and story by Adam McKay and Jay Martel & Ian Roberts, Get Hard is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.
As seen in the April 2, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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