This odd couple comedy from director Etan Cohen, in which disgraced fund manager James King (Will Ferrell) is sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison and turns to his car washer Darnell (Kevin Hart) for ‘training’ to prepare him for the experience, is a moderately successful, if somewhat outdated, film.
The title offers the first clue as to the level the film is pitched at (dick jokes à go-go), and the poster suggests the other primary concern: race. The latter theme is the nub of the plot: King turns to Darnell for prison advice because he’s black, and Darnell, despite never having been anywhere near a prison, is willing to play out King’s crude stereotype because he needs the money on offer in order send his daughter to a better school and start his own car washing business.
Ferrell and Hart make for a pretty likeable duo here, although I found myself wishing that the material had made more use of their comic talents. There are faint echoes in Get Hard of Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, although that was a much smarter and funnier film than this one. When the performers are allowed to show off their talents – as in one very funny scene in which Darnell impersonates the types of characters he thinks King will meet in prison, and King reacts as if they’re all standing there with him – the film can be pretty good, but a great many of the set pieces fall into the ‘missed opportunity’ category. For instance, the scene from the trailer in which King reluctantly taunts buff guys in an attempt to learn how to fight, doesn’t really have much to it, but feels like it could’ve been stronger. There are other scenes which feel tacked on; particularly a late foray into a white supremacist hideout.
The other primary source of comedy in the film is King’s fear of being raped in prison – something Darnell latches onto, and which the film is all too happy to make endless jokes about. All this culminates in the ‘money shot’ gag, in which King forces himself to attempt to perform fellatio on a stranger – a scene which is cringeworthy, but not in the way the film wants it to be. The way it’s shot kills any real potential for humour and leaves a slightly unpleasant feeling in the air. It does make one wonder how casually joking about male rape has come to be accepted. In the case of Get Hard, I don’t think the film is homophobic, but I also don’t think it has much to say about the topic, and nor are its jokes in that area particularly funny. Whenever the film got bogged down in this kind of thing, I began to feel the runtime.
The same could be said of the race jokes, some of which are admittedly quite funny, but which do feel a little outdated. Get Hard also can’t really get around the fact that while in many ways it is lampooning race stereotypes, often laudably, it also indulges in a fair few of them itself.
Once Darnell begins training King, that’s pretty much the plot. There’s a subplot about a gangster on their trail, but this gets so little screen time that it’s not really worth thinking about, and the ending is unfortunately a let down. Meanwhile, the only two women in the film are sidelined in tiny roles. Alison Brie (Mad Men) is wasted in an eye candy role as King’s fiancé, while Edwina Findley makes more of an impression as Darnell’s incredulous wife Rita.
Although it has considerable flaws, I did still find myself smirking, and sometimes laughing, at Get Hard. Cohen’s direction is fairly workmanlike, and the set pieces could’ve been stronger, but the laughs are down to Ferrell and Hart, who hold the thing together.