A film review by Craig J. Koban April 3, 2015


2015, R, 100 mins.


Will Ferrell as James King  /  Kevin Hart as Damell Lewis  /  Alison Brie as Fiancée de King  /  Craig T. Nelson as Martin Barrow  /  Edwina Findley as Rita Hidson  /  T.I. as Russell

Directed by Etan Cohen  /  Written by Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, and Etan Cohen

Considering that GET HARD was written and directed by Etan Cohen (one of TROPIC THUNDER's co-writers that had a field day lampooning movie star vanity and excess in that film), attempts at social satire in the film are sorely lacking.  

Instead, we get a race/class relations comedy that’s decidedly low on hilarious commentary and very, very high on nudity, bodily functions, and many jokes and gags about prison rape, racism, and homophobia.  GET HARD could have elevated itself above its one note premise – rich hedge fund whiz is sentenced to a maximum security prison and hires what he thinks is a black ex-con to help train him to survive the joint – but instead emerges as something that lacks comedic edge and a challenging handling of the material.  Stars Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart (comedic performers with endless appeal) give it their all with the rather lackluster script that they're dealt with. 

Actually, Ferrell and Hart are the least of GET HARD’s problems.  Initially at least, it’s a thrill to see these two on-screen funnyman with differing styles play off of one another to deliver laughs.  To be fair, neither performer here does anything radically different in GET HARD that we have not seen them do before (Ferrell’s man-child cluelessness and Hart’s rapid fire, motormouthed gusto), but there’s no denying that they do their schtick better than anyone.  For the most part, the duo are essentially unleashed in the film to do what they can with a mostly tired and formulaic script rife with tired scenarios and, in some instances, borderline cringe worthy moments that deal with white stereotypes of African Americans.  GET HARD didn’t overtly offend me – as it has some critics – in its peculiar and problematic handling of using race for the purposes of generating cheap chuckles.  Yet, there’s a difference between finding the material offensive and...well...amusing. 



The always game and willing to do anything for a laugh Ferrell plays James, one of those disgustingly rich zillionaires that’s made a killing in the hedge fund racket and spares no expense at letting those beneath him (even his maids, butlers, and groundskeepers) know how much more affluent he is than them.  He has seemingly everything: wealth, a vast mansion, a spoiled rotten wife (a funny Alison Brie) and a mostly charmed and stress-free life.  His wife’s father (Craig T. Nelson) is also his boss, whom early in the film promotes James to partner status at his firm.  However just when things look like they can’t get any better, James is framed and arrested for securities fraud and is sentenced to a 10 year sentences in prison.  Oh, he’s not going to one of those white-collar resort prisons…he’s going to San Quentin.

Desperately afraid to go to prison – and be sodomized on his first day there – James decides that he needs to “get hard” in his 30 days leading into his incarceration in order to prepare himself for the hell to come.  Of course, because James is a stuck-up and half-witted moron, he assumes that the only man that can help him is a black ex-con, in this case his lowly car washer Darnell (Hart), whom he believes must have been a criminal based primarily on his skin color.  In fact, Darnell has never once served any time for any offence, but he’s desperate to raise $30,000 to help buy his dream home for his family so they can move to a better neighborhood.  Realizing that James could be his ticket out, the initially offended Darnell decides to “train” James for a month…for a $30,000 fee…and essentially pretends that he was once a hard-edged ex-con with all the answers.  Darnell then converts James' mansion to a prison-like setting and embarks on the seemingly impossible mission of turning this wuss of a man into an unstoppable force of nature. 

Okay, let me start off by saying that GET HARD is not a racist film, as some have let on.  It’s a film that uses racial profiling for the purposes of comedy.  James is such a bumbling buffoon that even at his dumbest he can’t see how toxically offensive he’s being to Darnell.  Darnell is not squeaky clean either, as he plays up to every broad black stereotype he can muster for the purposes of selling his charade off to James.  Ferrell and James do have some fun at the expense of their character’s hypocritical standards and the film does generate a few laughs focusing on the nature of false assumptions.  Ferrell can play a snivelling crybaby to absolute perfection, whereas Hart is good at evoking men of outward charm and poise that are inwardly insecure.  There’s no denying that the stars have chemistry and work well together in the film. 

And yes, some gags devoted to race relations and racial profiling are hysterical, like when James dresses up like hiphop artist to try to join a South Central gang for the purposes of having them protect him when he’s on the inside (they take a real liking to him when he teaches them about stock profiles and making money by screwing people over without outright killing them).  There are also some funny bits involving an impromptu prison riot that Darnell stages in James' mansion that results in James accidentally having a homemade shiv being lodged into his cranium.  There’s a scandalous scene involving Darnell taking James to a gay-friendly outdoor restaurant for the purposes of teaching him about proper technique for giving oral sex.  The setup of this is kind of preposterously ingenious, but Cohen lets it drag out to unpardonable levels that will have audience members feeling more squirm inducingly uncomfortable than anything else.  

I just wished that Cohen had a shrewder mind with the overall premise here and milked it better for its satirical underpinnings.  GET HARD is topical in the sense that it’s about wealthy financial crooks (the most despised societal and movie villains of recent times) stepping over the impoverished to get ahead and how in post-racial America people still have subtle bigoted views towards people that they’re not altogether aware of harboring.  There’s some decent laughs to be had at the expense of the cerebral battle of pitting a 99 per center like James versus a one per center like Darnell, but GET HARD – despite thinking its cutting edge and raw – doesn’t have the tenacity to really explore its themes of economic/race warfare.  Vulgarity and overall lewdness does not equal comedic bravery or novelty.    

I can’t say that I didn’t laugh in GET HARD.  Ferrell, to his credit, fully commits himself to outrageous setups that, quite frankly, no other actor would probably touch with a ten-foot pole.  Kevin Hart plays likeable buffoons in his own right with agreeable results, but he really hasn't found the proper film to fully harness his obvious talents.  GET HARD has a potentially killer premise with confident and invested stars at the helm that do generate modest dosages of mischievous merriment throughout, but Cohen’s screenplay lacks witty audacity in approaching James’ prejudicial attitudes, not to mention his overt fears of prison rape and routine exercise yard beatings.  Perhaps if GET HARD found a healthier balance between shock humor and satirical commentary then it might have emerged as a profound laugh riot.  Instead, it feels like it’s profoundly wasting its cast and story potential.  

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