In a strange twist of fate, I find myself writing this afternoon about Will Ferrell’s most lukewarm performance to-date in Get Hard. This is after spending the morning gushing over Amy Schumer in Trainwreck and comparing her career trajectory to that of a young Ferrell. It’s an accurate assessment, though. Young Will Ferrell was a comedic force to be reckoned with, while the Will Ferrell of today is a lot more hit-or-miss. What’s most telling is that his hits have mostly been smaller parts and producer credits while the misses have been the his headlining affairs.
We can safely chalk Get Hard up as a miss for a number of reasons.
The product of a script by longtime Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay, Key and Peele writers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts, and director Etan Cohen (co-writer of Tropic Thunder), *Get Hard begins as if it has something interesting to say. It’s the story of millionaire broker James King (Ferrell), who is hit with major fraud charges and is sentenced to 10 years in prison. Out of sheer terror, he turns to Darnell (Kevin Hart), the man who washes his car for advice on how to survive prison.
In one of its opening sequences, Get Hard shows a horizontal split screen in which various people are getting ready for and traveling to work. On the top we see rich investment bankers putting on their suits and getting into their Mercedes Benzes. On the bottom we see Latina women in maids uniforms getting on a bus. This is a movie about inequality, we’re led to believe. It’s about a rich guy who has screwed over a bunch of honest people and we’re about to watch him get screwed back for almost 2 hours.
Only it’s not that movie. This is a comedy vehicle for Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. The film is thoroughly lobotomized in a wash of racial stereotypes and homophobic prison rape paranoia. It gets a few laughs, but it never gets to the point.
Get Hard can’t escape the race issue. There’s no surprise that an audience member called the film “racist as f**k” in a question for director Etan Cohen during the Q&A following the SXSW premiere. It plays strongly with racial stereotypes. Sometimes it works, including a moment when Kevin Hart’s character gives a white power gang a piece of his mind. Sometimes it doesn’t, including a scene in which Hart simulating a prison yard with an especially stereotypical hispanic impression. The entire punchline of the film – in which Hart’s black protagonist is the upstanding citizen and not an ex-con as Ferrell’s character sees him – is based on stereotypes.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the movie had stuck to its original message. To turn racial stereotypes around and say something interesting about inequality (while being funny along the way) would have been a worthwhile endeavor. Instead, Get Hard discards any social themes and strings together a 100-minute homophobic paranoia joke. In one scene – which is likely what earned the movie an initial NC–17 rating before being cut – Will Ferrell spends several minutes learning how to perform a blowjob with the help of a creepy stranger (Matt Walsh). The scene goes on longer than necessary and beyond the shock value of Will Ferrell smashing his face into another man’s penis, doesn’t serve any purpose other than to punctuate an overused and frankly offensive theme. I’m no prude – in fact, I’ve still got my green hat and I’m ready to streak with Will Ferrell from Old School – but this all just seems unnecessary.
Don’t get me wrong, Ferrell and Hart are fun together. They get some laughs because individually they are very funny and together they have solid chemistry. But it’s hard not to wish that they were teaming up in a smarter movie.
It is sad that a movie like this gets to hide behind the fact that it’s a dumb comedy. It should not be afforded that luxury. Get Hard recklessly deals with serious issues like inequality, racism and the people who caused our most recent financial crisis. It’s been proven time and time again that comedy can be used as a force for good. In this instance, it’s not even a force for average.