REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
Is Will Ferrell’s blubbery, naked body really all that funny? By now, hasn’t it already been overexposed in a litany of numerous other movies? Does an opening scene, which features repeated shots of Ferrell prancing about in his altogether enhance “Get Hard” in any way? In the alternative, is it an early signal to viewers that the film is full of recycled gags that weren’t all that funny to begin with? Unfortunately, the unavoidable answers to these questions should serve as caveats to any prospective ticket buyer.
In his role at a hedge fund, James King (Ferrell) is phenomenally successful. As a result of a particularly shrewd decision, he made $28 million dollars for the company in a single day. He lives in a sprawling Bel Air McMansion and has an attractive fiancée, (Alison Brie). She exhorts James to love-making on the blueprints of an ever bigger McMansion that they plan to build.
In the wake of James’ latest call, his boss, Martin (Craig T. Nelson), promotes him to the vaunted position of partner in the firm. Martin also happens to be the father of James’ fiancée. Like his daughter, Martin is a vocal advocate of Social Darwinism.
A party is held at James’ home with singer/songwriter, John Mayer, on hand to play there. However, the celebratory affair is interrupted by an F.B.I. raid. They place James under arrest on charges of fraud and embezzlement. James vehemently professes his innocence to no avail. He is hauled away in handcuffs.
Convinced that he will be exonerated, James turns down a plea deal. Following conviction, the Judge sentences him to 10 years. It won’t be served at some country club prison for white collar criminals. No indeed — seeking to make an example of James, the judge sentences him to do his time in San Quentin, a maximum security prison. He gives James 30 days to sort out his affairs in order.
James is terrified by the prospect of being surrounded by hardcore criminals with violent backgrounds. His fear of being killed in prison, James is panic-stricken that he will raped there.
What’s James’ solution? James hires Darnell (Kevin Hart) to school him on how to survive in prison. What are Darnell’s qualifications? James just assumes that because Darnell is African-American, he must have spent time in prison. Of course, that ignores the fact that James has already cited statistics that 33 percent of African-American males have done jail time. So, using his own statistics, James would have been aware that the probability is that Darnell was never in prison. This is the sort of pervasive dyslogia that dominates the film.
In reality, Darnell is a hard-working entrepreneur, who operates a deluxe car washing operation. A hardened criminal? Darnell has a squeaky clean record, which is devoid of so much as a parking ticket. When Darnell makes a remark that his wife, Rita (Edwina Findley), finds objectionable, he gets slapped.
Darnell wants to buy a new house away from Crenshaw, where he and his family live. This will allow them to escape a neighborhood, where drive-by shootings are routinue. It will also enable his daughter (Ariana Neal) to attend a better school. And, to purchase the home, Darnell requires another $30,000. Darnell decides to take advantage of James’ misperception and pose as an ex-convict. For this private tutoring in how to act like a thug, Darnell charges $30,000, the exact amount he needs for a new house.
Darnell transforms James’ palatial home into a simulated San Quentin lock up. Although Darnell has absolutely no first-hand experience, he creates a crash course in prison survival. When it becomes obvious that James is unable to assume a hardened persona, Darnell concocts an alternate stratagem.
The film is rife with particular virulent strains of racism, homophobia, and disdain for society’s financial non-elites. It throws in a random anti-Semitic remark about “Jew hair” and Latino stereotypes. At some juncture in the film, it becomes apparent that James has Asperger’s syndrome. There is no other way to reconcile his uncanny facility with numbers and calculations with how hopelessly obtuse James is in other regards. So, apparently the screenwriters have decided that it is also open season on those with autism.
In addition to its crude, offensive script, “Get Hard” is subverted by its technical incompetence. Shots are poorly constructed and lit. A key fight scene is ineptly choreographed.
The film’s disconcertingly few laughs do little to redeem its hatefulness. “Get Hard” is a limp comedy, which is genuinely hard to take.
* R (for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material) 100 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200m feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.