EXERCISE IN FUTILITY: Despite the combined comic firepower of Ferrell and Hart, Cohen's directorial debut proves a one-joke dud.
Perhaps your entertainment radar has picked up the drumbeat of denunciation against the Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart comedy Get Hard. Since its SXSW premiere, numerous reviewers have leveled charges of racism and homophobia. At one point, things got so weird that the film's stars and first-time director, Etan Cohen, canceled interviews with the press.
Could a movie featuring America's most beloved manchild be guilty of such mean-spiritedness? Of course not. There's nothing in the script cowritten by Cohen (who penned Tropic Thunder) with Ian Roberts and Jay Martel that you haven't seen in countless raunchfests. The film's only crime is being considerably less funny than it should be.
Ferrell plays clueless master of the universe James King. He manages a hedge fund, dwells in a Bel Air mansion and is betrothed to a gold digger (Alison Brie), who insists they need an even bigger place. Think Ron Burgundy on Wall Street.
After police burst into James' birthday bash and arrest him for fraud, he's offered a plea deal — but, being clueless and innocent, he underestimates the court's frustration with white-collar crime. Instead of being cleared, he's sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin.
There are two rules Hollywood never breaks: If there's a pool in a scene, someone will fall into it. And if a comedy pertains to prison, someone will make a joke about rape. So the concept central to Get Hard — a character preferring not to be raped in prison — is hardly new. Or, for that matter, homophobic. (Women prefer not to be raped, too, the last time I checked.) This isn't even the first film to attempt stretching that tired joke to feature length. "Better Call Saul"'s Bob Odenkirk directed Let's Go to Prison in 2006, and nobody protested — though it incorporated the same tropes considered controversial in Get Hard.
The picture's bias isn't anti-gay or anti-minority, but anti-1 percent. On paper, its premise — Ferrell has 30 days to prepare for jail and stupidly assumes the black man who washes his car has done time and can teach him to protect himself in the big house — is adequately promising. Add Hart to the mix, and one would appear to have a sure thing.
Hart plays Darnell — who, in reality, has zero criminal experience. He takes James' money so he can move his family to a safer neighborhood (psst, that's a good thing). When James asks him about his past, Darnell blurts out the plot of Boyz n the Hood — and, being clueless, James swallows.
On paper, this story might have been a prison riot, but on screen, lazy writing turns it into a longer-than-necessary letdown. A few bits approach the surreal lunacy required — like the Boyz gag, and Darnell remodeling the mansion into a maximum-security facility for James' training.
By and large, though, the script falls back on butt jokes. Not that there's anything wrong with that (remember Melissa McCarthy offering to hide a gun where the sky marshal wouldn't find it unless she wanted him to in Bridesmaids?). You just don't want 100 minutes of them.
With comic firepower like this at its disposal, Get Hard should've wound up way less, well, disposable. On the upside, its heart is in the right place. Bonds are forged between black and white, friendships formed between gay and straight. Prison assault and income inequality are grave societal issues to which the filmmakers draw attention. Perhaps we're left with this well-intentioned but borderline-mirth-free dud because they try to milk yuks from subjects that simply aren't laughing matters.