“No, you made me hard!”
Let’s Go to Prison, or at least prepare to do so. Big time businessman James King (Will Ferrell) has it all: The money, the mansion, the sexpot fiance (Alison Brie), and the support of his soon-to-be wife’s father Martin (Craig T. Nelson), who is also his boss. Simply, he is living life like a king.
That is, until the feds come to his home at an engagement party to arrest him on counts of fraud and embezzlement. James is going into lockup, but not at one of these home-away-from home type joints like Martha Stewart was in. He is being sentenced to do his bid in San Quentin, one of the worst, if not the worst, prisons to do time in. Given 30 days to get his stuff in order, James needs to learn how to survive inside, to Get Hard for what is in store. Where does he turn to? His car washer Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), because statistics have taught James that one in three black men have served or are serving time, and Darnell must be one of them. Taking James’ stupidity and exploiting it for financial gain, Darnell agrees to prep him, despite having never been incarcerated.
The trailers for Get Hard should easily give one an idea as to what the movie is going to consist of, which are laughs primarily based around racism (overt and covert), hip-hop culture, and an endless barrage of male sexual organ jokes. Even without seeing the trailers, just seeing the title and the two stars headlining this movie probably gives the idea as well. Funny in places but not consistently for yours truly, Get Hard is a middling black-white comedy.
Even with its blunt title, in a alternate universe it isn’t hard to envision this comedy saying a little bit more than it ultimately does about race in society, the Horatio Alger myth, and things of that nature. For the first 15 or so minutes, this “analysis,” if you will, looks like it may happen. Director Etan Cohen, not to be confused with Ethan Coen, is very clear to point out the haves and have nots, and the way he shoots the opening of the movie with the contrasting locales of inner-city LA and Bel-Air makes it seem desperately like he wants to say something substantial about issues affecting the world today. But something is missing, something like Trading Places, like the brilliant Wesley Morris alludes to, has. And, as Dan the Man states, it is hard to put a finger to say what exactly it should be doing, but the feeling cannot be shook that it wants to say more, but perhaps doesn’t know how.
All of this is to say that Get Hard ends up feeling stretched out with the story as it is, which until the last 20 minutes in which it transforms into a buddy cop-ish affair, is essentially Hart’s character running Farrell’s character through various situations he is likely to see in prison, from rape defense to riots. Some are funnier than others, but a few of the moments run too long.
There’s a fine line between tolerable and overkill, and scenes that reach the overkill stage include Hart impersonating a Black, Hispanic, and gay prison member for what seems like an eternity, and a mission where Ferrell’s James has to learn how to perform fellatio in a bathroom stall. If cut in half, these comedic scenes may have had more potency. Instead, they just become awkward the longer they go on.
The writing and scene structure could use some work, but Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart deserve credit for making it work the best they can. Sometimes making it work here means going off of the cuff and playing off of each other. Initially, I had a skepticism about whether Hart and Ferrell would work together, and I can’t definitely say why I felt this way. Truth be told, the two meld nicely, and future collaborations can be imagined. Sure, there are the aforementioned times where the seemingly unscripted dialogue goes on too long, and some one-liners are painfully weak, but that isn’t an indictment on how well they work together. Slightly off-tangent, but for whatever reason, there’s something about Ferrell and the certain looks he gives off that still manages to get some laughs after all of these years.
It is up to Ferrell and Hart to carry this, but for the short time he is on screen, rapper T.I. is a nice supplement to the duo. He’s the stereotypical drug dealer and gang banger as Russell, which, based on T.I.’s real life upbringing, is hardly a stretch. But, to paraphrase Ferrell’s character’s when describing Russell to Hart’s character, “he is just so damn charismatic.” Craig T. Nelson and Alison Brie are present as well, but aside from a opening scene, Brie is forgotten and Nelson could have been played by anyone.
As stated before, there’s an alternate universe where Get Hard uses its two stars to make a wonderful, hilarious satire on society and its inequality problems. There’s also an alternate universe where Get Hard is completely abysmal. In this universe, Get Hard is an alright comedy that isn’t limp, but not a raging stiff either. Consider it a semi.
Photo credits go to upi.com, aroundmovies.com, and theonlinelist.com.
Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.