Ferrell takes on the plum role of James King, a privileged and preening Wall Street type who, convicted of tax evasion, faces a 10-year sentence in San Quentin State Prison. Abandoned by his gold-digger fiancée (Alison Brie) and his greedy boss (Craig T. Nelson), James knows he’s not prepared for the harsh environment. Moreover, being both racist and homophobic, his biggest concern about his situation is the prospect of being repeatedly sexually assaulted by larger, black inmates. Laughing yet?
To that end, James seeks out Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), a hard-working family man stuck in a dead-end job at a car wash in a parking garage. Wrongly assuming that Darnell has spent time behind bars because of his skin color, James recruits him to toughen him up so that he might go un-raped at San Quentin.
It’s as contrived a set-up as it sounds but one that yields far less laughs than expected. One of the most important things about making a comedy, particularly one that deals with attitudes toward race and sexuality, is getting the angle right. Unfortunately, it may not have been possible for Get Hard to get its angle more wrong; the film does not thoughtfully address so much as spitefully ridicule race (both African-Americans and Latinos are most victimized) and homosexuality.
To give one of many examples, there’s a scene in which Darnell has become convinced James will have to submit to other inmates, and so he decides to take James to a place where he can practice giving blowjobs. Dragged to a trendy hotspot for gay men, James ends up in a bathroom stall with a predatory older man (Veep’s Matt Walsh, understandably embarrassed), trying to perform fellatio. Determined but intensely horrified, he eventually crumples, sobbing desperately, on the man’s semi-flaccid penis.
The idea behind the joke (gay people are so gross, aren’t they?) is almost as disturbing as the number of laughs it got from audience members in this reviewer’s screening.
It simply boggles the mind that Get Hard managed to spring from the horrendously misguided minds of director/co-writer Etan Cohen and co-writers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts all the way to theaters without anyone noticing that its comic premise was entirely built on a foundation of racism and homophobia.
However, it might be better to remain confounded by that than to contemplate the alternative: that people did notice and thought, especially in a cultural climate newly shaped by Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, that this nasty, dated waste of celluloid would get a pass.
Certainly, were Ferrell and Hart not in the leading roles, Get Hard would not have been backed so enthusiastically by Warner Bros. Outside of their involvement, the movie really has nothing going for it. Brie, a tremendously appealing comic actress, is trapped in the humiliating role of a sex kitten, eternally clad in lingerie or tight outfits and serving no purpose outside of eye candy. (As if Get Hard hadn’t racked up enough offenses already, it’s casually sexist throughout.) Cohen’s direction is as ugly as his script, ensuring the film can’t even produce a good-looking scene. And even the editing and music choices reek of laziness.
With all that in mind, the only question left unanswered is: how on Earth did Ferrell and Hart, two of the funniest people alive, end up in this mess? Together, they must have thought they would be unstoppable and, indeed, there’s one scene where the two play off each other so terrifically that it makes the vileness of the rest of the film all the more obvious. But both actors need to stop letting their agents read their scripts – or better yet, fire their agents. Enough career moves like Get Hard could sink even the mightiest of performers.
Instead of saying anything of value about modern race relations in America, cultural perceptions of sexuality in a time more accepting of non-straight orientations or even the wealth divide, Get Hard jeers. It points its finger, gives a contemptuous smile and asks us to join it in denigrating huge swaths of people for attributes that haven’t been admissible punch-lines in decades. It is the public’s duty to wholeheartedly reject that repugnant invitation, even (or is it especially?) with actors as compulsively lovable as Ferrell and Hart delivering it.