If the idea of a dorky white guy asking a manic black guy to get him hard makes you roll around on the floor in hysterics, you’re in luck. Because the new Will Ferrell–Kevin Hart comedy recycles that same Wildean bit of that’s-what-she-said wordplay about a thousand times. I’ll just come right out and say it: Get Hard is not only a bad movie but a profoundly wasted opportunity. I’m sure there are a lot of fans of Ferrell’s and Hart’s out there (myself included) who were curious to see how the two stars’ unique comic styles would ricochet off each other—the former’s oblivious blowhard lunacy against the latter’s yippy jack-in-the-box energy. But here, both of them seem resigned to going after the lowest-hanging punchline fruit available. It’s easily the laziest film either one of them has ever made.
Ferrell plays James, a superrich hedge-fund whiz who’s happily engaged to a spoiled shrew (Alison Brie) whose scheming father (Craig T. Nelson) is his billionaire boss. James leads a charmed life that goes up in smoke when he’s framed for securities fraud and embezzlement and is sentenced to a 10-year stretch in San Quentin. (You don’t have to squint too hard to see the DNA of another black-white buddy comedy, Trading Places, in this setup. Ferrell is basically Dan Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III and Hart is Eddie Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine.) Knowing he won’t last a second behind bars, James offers Hart’s car washer Darnell—the only black man he knows—$30,000 to teach him how to make himself “hard” so he can survive in prison. The catch is, Darnell, despite being black, has never been to jail. He’s just pretending to be the kind of thug James presumes he is to get the money for his family. Isn’t racial profiling hilarious?
I’m willing to give Ferrell and Hart the benefit of the doubt and trust that they’re tweaking knee-jerk stereotypes rather than being Neanderthals. But there’s a fine line between making a commentary on race and clumsily exploiting it for cheap laughs. Get Hard walks that line like a drunk taking a field sobriety test. The film doesn’t have the light touch to make this gimmick work. As Darnell puts James through his prison-prep boot camp, teaching him how to summon a mad-dog face, fashion a shiv, and hide said shiv in his keister, the film spirals into an ever more toxic stew of gay-panic gags. It can’t imagine anything worse—or more of a scream—than anal violation.
Directed by Etan Cohen, the screenwriter of the much-better Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder, Get Hard dredges the bottom of the comedy barrel for 100 queasy minutes as Ferrell and Hart mug and yell and try not to look mortified. Both of them must have sensed deep down that they could’ve come up with better material just by shredding the script and ad-libbing, because there is a clever way to make this premise work. (Again, Aykroyd and Murphy did it.) Instead, they squandered what should have been an electric collaboration on a movie that’s more tone-deaf than madcap. C–