Review: “Get Hard” a big formulaic comedy, heightened and hardened

Start with an introduction reminiscent of Trading Places, shift into a reverse Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, then add an unhealthy amount of graphic visuals, racial conflict and homophobia, and shazam! You’ve got yourself a hard-R box-office hit in Get Hard.

Get Hard, which premiered Monday night at the SXSW festival in Austin and arrives in movie screens nationwide March 27, certainly will be a hit thanks to its stars, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.

That the movie works at all is a testament to the energy and all-out commitment of Ferrell and Hart, buoyed by a screenplay from Jay Martel and Ian Roberts from an idea by Ferrell and longtime comedy partner at SNL, Funny or Die and Gary Sanchez Productions — Adam McKay — and the directorial debut of Etan Cohen. Cohen’s background as a writer with Mike Judge on Idiocracy, King of the Hill and Beavis and Butt-Head, plus Tropic Thunder, would lend him credibility in the satire department. And Martel and Roberts have plenty of experience mining current racial politics in both subversive and mainstream ways as the executive producers showrunning Comedy Central’s Key & Peele.

So Get Hard starts from a very formulaic place — wealthy, privileged naively racist white man (Ferrell) enlists the only black man he recognizes, the guy who washes his car (Hart), to train him within 30 days for a 10-year stint in maximum-security prison — and heightens the game of that premise.

Hart’s Darnell Lewis needs $30,000 to buy a house that he can move his wife and daughter into to escape their violent South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Ferrell’s James King, who thought he was marrying the boss (Craig T.Nelson)’s daughter (Alison Brie) and into the 1 percent, instead worries how he’ll survive prison after being arrested for fraud and embezzlement. That Darnell has never been to prison leads to the game of the movie — how does a guy who’s never done hard time prepare another guy for same?

“Help me to not be somebody’s bitch!” James asks Darnell.
“All I need to be is every stereotype he already thinks I am,” Darnell explains a scene later to his wife.

Wacky hijinx — heavy on the ideas that the only thing that happen in prison are rape and murder — ensue. Which lead to extreme tonal shifts. One minute, we’re watching an extremely cute scene in the mansion that’s been turned into a makeshift San Quentin, as Darnell portrays three different convicts in role-playing with a clueless James. The next, they’re at a gay-cruising bar in West Hollywood where Darnell convinces James to try learning to love fellatio — cue the gross-out scene with Matt Walsh, cut from BJ to T.J. Jagodowski, trying in vain to hit on Darnell.

As the clock ticks down onscreen, even Darnell’s daughter is losing faith in her father’s training of James: “He won’t last in prison. He won’t even last in my school!”

That’s where the gangs come in. Rapper T.I. plays Darnell’s cousin, Russell, leader of the Crenshaw Kings, who calls James “mayo” as in mayonnaise, while comedian Ron Funches ironically really does “get hard” to play his supporting role as a gangster. Will James fit in with them, or will he have to join the ultra-racist Alliance of Whites gang instead?

Or, pray tell, will they find a happier answer elsewhere?

What do you think.

There’s a brief moment in which the gangsters reflect on the real criminals “who are getting away with murder” (followed by a funny ad-lib by Funches!), but then it’s back to broad lowbrow antics.

You’ll likely find at least one scene so disturbing you’ll question whether you even like this movie. But you’ll also likely be surrounded by an audience that’s laughing out loud too much to dwell on it.

Ay, there’s the rub.

Get Hard opens nationwide March 27, 2015, from Warner Bros.

Watch Kevin Hart, Etan Cohen and Will Ferrell introduce their movie at the SXSW premiere:

The restricted trailer for Get Hard:

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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