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Get Hard gets offensive. Get Hard also gets racist, and more than a little homophobic as it searches for laughs in its social and economic divides. But Get Hard frequently gets funny while throwing punches at taboo subjects. And then Get Hard gets really silly every time it tries to serve a paper-thin plot to which it feels beholden. And that’s a shame.
The truth is, Get Hard really just wanted an excuse to team Will Ferrell with red-hot-right-now comedian Kevin Hart, and other movies have existed for worse reasons. The pairing of the performers’ opposing comedic styles carries Get Hard longer than it should, with a wound-up Hart pinging and bouncing off of an intentionally demure and conservative Ferrell – pun intended. If you like either of these comedians and have bought into their brands of humor in the past, then Get Hard has the right amount of knowingly insensitive punchlines to make you believe you haven’t wasted your evening at the cinema.
It’s impossible not to recite the premise of Get Hard without acknowledging its inherent racism. Riffing on the recent criminal activities of guys like Bernie Madoff, Ferrell plays James King, an insanely successful and wealthy trader who’s convicted of massive tax evasions and ordered to serve time in San Quentin. Convinced he needs guidance to help him prepare for life behind bars, King hires Darnell Lewis (Hart) – the black guy who washes his car – to train him on how to be a model convict… assuming Darnell served time simply because he’s black. Darnell only goes along with King's ludicrous plan because he’s trying to save enough money to move his wife (Edwina Findley) and daughter out of the tough neighborhood of Crenshaw, and into a district where his child can attend a better school.
There are very few stereotypes Get Hard doesn’t exploit for the sake of a joke, and some are far more clever than others. King, for example, is jamming alongside John Mayer at his private engagement party to Alison Brie the night he’s arrested, which is the whitest sentence I could have typed in this review. Director Etan Cohen doesn’t have the same grip on the African-American or gay communities, so the punchlines aimed at those groups are less focused, more broad and usually too easy to be legitimately funny. Black people run in violent gangs. Gay guys exist to give each other oral sex. In prison, both worlds collide, repeatedly. Or so the narrative often goes in Get Hard, which doesn’t meet a single blowjob joke it isn’t eager to ram into the ground.
In between the crass prison gang-bang jokes, Hart and Ferrell are able to forge some chemistry in the grooves of their usual on-screen personas. Ferrell often plays the conceited, clueless lout who’s unaware of reality until it rises up and bites him on his swollen head. And Hart’s often asked to whip up a blustery improv of comedy in hopes of improving his material. Get Hard gives him a sensitive, moderately formed character in Darnell, but there were opportunities when either the comedian or the movie could have dragged Get Hard to a superior place by confronting racism with honesty – there’s a scene with white supremacists that could have been Hart’s 48 Hours moment – and it never materializes.
Outside of the comedy generated by its insensitive concept, Get Hard makes the mistake of thinking it needs a story to follow. It doesn’t. It’s not meant to be that type of movie, which explains why Get Hard sputters and dies during its mismanaged third act, where James and Darnell team up to find out who framed the former (a fact that’s painfully obvious to us in the film’s first five minutes). It’s hard to determine who will care less about that narrative: the filmmakers who create it, or the audiences who are forced to watch it. By that point, however, lenient Get Hard patrons likely will have been entertained enough to earn a verdict of “worth one’s time.”