Perhaps the original idea for “Get Hard” involved something about the class divide between the 1% and everybody else but there’s nothing funny about Bernie Madoff so maybe that’s why director and co-writer Etan Cohen juiced things up by adding in broad comedy elements about race, privilege and instructions for something called “Keistering.” Imagine a slapstick “Wall Street” or “The Defiant Ones” sucked dry of its social message.
Will Ferrell is James King, an aptly named but dim-witted hedge-fund manager. He’s wealthy beyond belief, engaged to his boss’s daughter Alissa (Alison Brie) and as self-indulgent as he is rich.
“How much money are you going to make today?” coos Alissa.
“Enough to choke a baby,” he says.
He has the world in his back pocket until he’s charged and convicted on 73 counts of fraud and embezzlement. Sentenced to ten years at maximum-security San Quentin he has one month to put his affairs in order before being sent up the river. “For the love of Alan Greenspan! My life is ruined.”
Terrified of life behind bars he hires a prison coach, someone who has done time and can prepare him for what lies ahead. Or at least, that’s what he hopes will happen when he offers his one African-American friend, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) $30,000 to whip him into slammer shape. “Help me not be someone’s bitch.”
Trouble is, Darnell is a family man who has never been near prison but he’s trying to make enough money to buy a new house.
“Why did he think you were in jail,” asks Darnell’s sceptical wife (Edwina Findley Dickerson).
“I was being black,” he explains. “I’ll be the stereotype he already thinks I am.”
He creates a Prison Readiness Program that includes Mad Dog Face, picking a fight lessons and a simulated prison riot. The pair form a bond, and soon they put the lessons aside to concentrate their efforts on the men who put King in this jam.
It’s true that Ferrell, playing a variation on his trademarked clueless, arrogant guy routine, raises a few laughs and Hart is his usual high energy self—almost too much so in one extended and excruciatingly unfunny role playing sequence—but apart from several outrageous and funny physical bits, “Get Hard” prefers to lean back on tired R-rated comedy tropes.
Gay panic, check. Racial stereotypes, check. Raunchy jokes, check. It’s occasionally offensive—but what R-rated comedy in the last ten years isn’t?—but worse than that, it takes the easy way out and in the process wastes the opportunity to dig a bit deeper and make the class warfare comedy a bit richer. For a farce to be truly effective it has to have one foot in the real world. The characters here are too broad to truly connect, but the realities of economic disparity, class and race are in-your-face enough to provide a fertile vein of satire. Too bad they, by-and-large, go unmined.