“Have fun with it”
It was only a matter of time before Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart paired up. The former’s fading critical success is in need of an injection of freshness to work alongside his tired shtick and the latter’s firmly planted star atop Hollywood couldn’t hurt from a little face time with a fanbase that may not have fully transitioned over to the new guy. On paper Get Hard should be a resounding win-win as a result both financially and creatively. Just think of the comedy gold that would come out of a room with these two talents riffing off one another in search of the next R-rated hit. I’d love to see that movie. And while there is a chance Ferrell and Hart did collaborate on something during their down time on set, this isn’t it.
Get Hard is actually the brainchild of Jay Martel and Ian Roberts (with story assistance from Ferrell BFF Adam McKay and screenplay help by director Etan Cohen). It shows. No one is leaving the theater without thinking about how the film’s penchant for stereotypes and utilization of them came from the minds of two white dudes. I know they’re both writers on “Key & Peele” (there’s a whispered “Bitch” joke and “Fudge” laugh I couldn’t separate from that show’s funnier renditions), but that fact means nothing when you aren’t embracing the expert wit vaulting its comedy above other twenty-first century sketch shows. Martel and Roberts are simply using racism as easy lowest common denominator fodder devoid of all commentary beyond some wasted visual montages redundantly juxtaposing One-Percent life with the lower middle class.
It’s not a horrible choice if you’re willing to go the extra mile by lambasting without any need for clichéd resolution. Once you craft a lukewarm plot around the jokes, however, you’re merely showing your bluff. The fact we’re meant to pretend to care about who’s framing James King (Ferrell) at all shows how empty the bigotry onscreen is rather than an up-front-and-center mission to speak to America through laughter and open its eyes to a systemic problem. That’s what “Key & Peele” strives to do and almost always achieves—a satire of prejudice we relate to on a human level rather than a cartoonish one to ultimately dismiss. Everything about King recruiting the owner of the company that washes his car (Hart’s Darnell Lewis) to ready him for ten years in San Quentin is cartoon.
This is the difference between five-minute skits and a 100-minute movie: the latter needs character growth. The joke needs to end with relevance that goes further than finding a way to make the fake friendship morph into a real one built on respect and trust. We’ve already seen that too many times to count. Same thing goes with the patsy plot eventually providing the victim with just enough latent intelligence to turn the tables around. As a result nothing about Get Hard is unique. The only thing that could make it special is the involvement of creative talents Ferrell and Hart making it more than an overgrown dick joke (yes, I put wrote it that way for a reason since a majority of the film consists of similarly obvious puns).
Just because no ethnic group is left unscathed—not even Asians or Arabs since there aren’t any to speak of—doesn’t earn a pass. Blanket bigotry is still bigotry unless you’re attempting to have us laugh at ourselves for laughing. The filmmakers fail to do so, content instead with us laughing at the characters and therefore augmenting the hate rather than subvert it. We laugh at the diminutive black man pretending to be tough before cowering at every little thing. We laugh at the Latinos being disrespected and ignored servants who revel in juvenile payback. We laugh at the thugs who prove to be keen businessmen because the “absurdity” of that juxtaposition continues to be fed into society. We laugh at skinheads for being white trash and the wealthy elite for being spoiled, out-of-touch WASPS.
Guess what? It’s surface meant to distract from a flimsy plot that’s better served disappearing completely. I say this because it is absent for half the film and it’s in that void that Get Hard achieves some success. The idea of a racist white guy assuming a hard-working black guy has been in jail and can therefore teach him how to survive his own forthcoming stint is inherently funny and should open the doors for a high-charged dynamic. Watching Hart dismiss Ferrell’s ineptitude with frustrated consternation is mostly fun. It relies too heavily on emasculation humor, though, snowballing into an over-the-top, very misguided roasting of gay stereotype despite the impetus having promise. Stick to the in-home “training” countdown towards judgment day and find a common ground between these family men and you have something.
Sadly, every time it seems there might be more at play, another easy joke arrives to squander the potential. The thing with Hollywood comedies these days is that producers want to please too many people at once. They want to simultaneously be irreverent, grounded in reality, possessed by a message, and populated by sketches thought to be so funny their success as humor trumps any relevance to the plot itself. Get Hard isn’t the worst of these—not even of the year or starring Hart since The Wedding Ringer also graced 2015—but its far from the best either. If you already have the hard-R rating, be brave enough to ignore convention and do something worthwhile with real stakes. A prolonged Boyz n the Hood reference shouldn’t be your most memorable gag.
 Copyright: © 2015 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC. Photo Credit: Patti Perret. Caption: (L-r) KEVIN HART as Darnell and WILL FERRELL as James in Warner Bros. Pictures’ comedy “GET HARD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 Copyright: © 2015 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC. Photo Credit: Patti Perret. Caption: (L-r) CRAIG T. NELSON as Martin and ALISON BRIE as Alissa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ comedy “GET HARD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 Copyright: © 2015 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC. Photo Credit: Patti Perret. Caption: (L-r) KEVIN HART as Darnell and TIP “T.I” HARRIS as Russell in “GET HARD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.