Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Movie Review: Get Hard

Get Hard
Directed by: Etan Cohen.
Written by: Jay Martel & Ian Roberts and Etan Cohen and Adam McKay.
Starring: Will Ferrell (James), Kevin Hart (Darnell), Craig T. Nelson (Martin), Alison Brie (Alissa), Edwina Findley Dickerson (Rita), Ariana Neal (Makayla), Erick Chavarria (Cecelio), T.I. (Russell), Paul Ben-Victor (Gayle).

At what point do jokes cross the line between being about racism and actually being racist. At what point do jokes cross the line between being about homophobia, and actually being homophobic? I’m not sure I – or anyone really – knows where precisely that line gets drawn, but I am also pretty sure that Get Hard crosses both of them multiple times. But perhaps it just seems that way because most of the jokes themselves weren’t actually funny, and it’s easier to get offended by humor that doesn’t make you laugh. Whatever the truth is, I didn’t laugh very much during Get Hard despite the fact that both of its stars – Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart – are in fact very funny in general. The whole premise of the movie though is basically that Ferrell is afraid of being raped in prison by black men, so he has to learn to protect himself in the 30 days he has left on the outside. I suppose one could argue that the object of ridicule in Get Hard is not actually black, homosexual rapists – but rather Ferrell’s white fear of them, based on the stereotypes of them that he believes, as well as Hart, who despite the fact that he is black, also has a lot of stereotypes in his head. He only knows slightly more about what to expect in prison than Ferrell does – but acts as his guide anyway – meaning that it’s really the blind leading the blind. Perhaps that is even true. Still though – Get Hard does leave a bad taste in your mouth.

In the film, Ferrell stars as James King – a financial big shot, who makes a lot of money working for his future father-in-law Martin (Craig T. Nelson). Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, he is arrested and charged with embezzlement and other financial crimes (the filmmakers could have watched an episode or two of American Greed to give some sort of basis in reality for the crimes, which they are so vague on that it is impossible to tell exactly what James has been charged with – just that it angers a lot of people). Martin insists he’ll help James – who proclaims his innocence - but he still gets 10 years in San Quentin, from a judge who wants to make an example out of a financial criminal (the film’s biggest piece of fantasy). The judge also gives him 30 days to “get his affairs in order” before the sentence starts. James ends up hiring Darnell (Kevin Hart) – who works in the parking garage of his work – to teach him how to survive in prison – as he just assumes that a black man Darnell’s age has been in prison (to give James a little credit, Darnell does make a couple comments to give James a slight idea, that he then just takes and runs with it).

The bulk of the movie is really about these two idiots “preparing” James for life as a prison bitch. Darnell, who really has no more idea than James what prison will be like, seems to base everything off of old episodes of Oz and prison stereotypes – which is something that even James seems completely unfamiliar with. Eventually, Darnell will bring in some real “experts” to help – and things spiral out of control.

Ferrell and Hart can be funny – Ferrell in movies, and Hart mainly in his stand-up routines (I haven’t seen many of Hart’s movies, but think he could be funny in the right role – but don’t think he’s found it yet). Here though, they don’t quite work together. Ferrell is at his best playing idiots – and he plays James as if he’s an idiot, although the screenplay never really settles on whether he is or not. For the most part, he certainly seems like one – not only for the way he casually assumes Darnell is a felon, or how he doesn’t realize who is really behind the scam (the best moment in the film is when Darnell figures that out in about half a second) – but then again, he’s also portrayed as some sort of financial genius, and overall just a sweet, naïve guy. The movie misses an opportunity to truly make a biting comedy about the 1%, by going so soft on him. As for Hart, well, he’s basically playing himself – or at least his stand-up persona, but the writers of the movie don’t him the type of material he needs to make it work. The rest of the cast is barely in the movie, and seem on autopilot. It’s very disappointing for instance to cast a comedic actress as talented as Alison Brie (as Ferrell’s fiancée), and then just use her a sex object in lingerie for one scene, and then basically jettison her character.
Get Hard is a comedy that is based on stereotypes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Lots of comedies are based on those, but the best ones subvert those stereotypes – which I think is the intention of Get Hard – but the film never comes close to meeting those intentions. Is Get Hard offensive? Yes, but mainly that’s because it’s lazy, and doesn’t really try to do anything with a subject that could have made a great comedy. And also because, above all, it’s just not funny.

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