You want a barometer for whether you will like Get Hard? Watch this right here:
This is the movie. The feature length version fills in a few gaps and adds a few more jokes, but this is it. I don’t mean to be reductionist, but Will Ferrell is no longer the guy surprising us on SNL. We know what Will Ferrell comedy looks like. Heck, at this point we can identify the differences between a PG-13 Will Ferrell comedy like Anchorman or Talladega Nights (two movies which, incidentally, feel every bit the decade they are removed from the present Will Ferrell) and an R-rated Will Ferrell Comedy like Step Brothers. You know what Get Hard is before you walk into the theater; it’s a R-rated Will Ferrell comedy. It’s that red band trailer. Do you want more of that?
That’s not to say that you’re in the wrong for wanting more if you do, or that Get Hard has nothing to offer, only that you shouldn’t expect any surprises despite the inclusion of Kevin Hart. Get Hard is funny! But it stays in line with a very particular humor.
The plot setup is, smartly, very simple. Ferrell plays James King, a successful stock broker just made partner at his firm and engaged to his boss’s materialistic daughter (played by Alison Brie) whose world falls apart when he’s pinned with fraud charges and sentenced to report to a maximum security prison in 30 days. To prepare him for life on the inside, James hires Darnell (Hart), a grey collar entrepreneur who owns and runs the carwash at James’s office. Darnell has never been to prison, but rolls with James’s assumption he has because the money will let Darnell move his family into a better neighborhood.
To the movie’s credit, although it deals heavily in racial stereotypes it never feels as though it’s attacking anyone. Darnell is a far better man than James, cornered only by the socioeconomic realities of 21st century America. James is the living embodiment of the idea that money begets money; unlike Darnell or any of the many Hispanic people working at his house, Get Hard doesn’t see him as dealing in any real service, and his arc is about the proper use of his money as much as anything. He’s moving from being oblivious about his privileged situation to being (slightly) more aware of those around him. But he is intelligent about money. There’s a pretty funny scene where he ingratiates himself to a bunch of gangbangers by teaching them how to invest smartly. Get Hard isn’t really about overthrowing the status quo, and you wouldn’t expect a movie like this to be proposing some new social paradigm, but it is pretty effective at identifying some of the realities that often sit just below the surface.
But that’s not most of the movie. Most of the movie is joke-a-minute hijinks, and with all the above caveats accounted for, casting Ferrell and Hart as your leads all but guarantees some great comedic moments. My favorite, as I already talked about in my SXSW reaction, involves Darnell playacting different elements of the prison yard James is likely to encounter to teach him how to stay out of trouble, but the whole idea of Darnell turning James’s mansion into a prison, not to mention James’s early adoption of habits only suitable to a prison situation, is pretty funny.
Less compelling is a sequence where James seeks out protection from skinheads, but his near entry into a black gang is pretty good. And of course, since this is a Ferrell movie, there are some more ridiculous and scandalous moments, as when Darnell decides James isn’t going to be able to make it in jail as a tough guy, so he’d better learn to suck guys off, and he’d better start practicing that, too. I’m actually a little surprised the entire movie went without any Shawshank Redemption references, but I suppose that’s a bit aged to have much social currency at this point.
The Verdict: 3 out of 5
Let go the notions that Get Hard is something different that what you expect it to be, or even something different from what you’ve seen before from a Will Ferrell movie. This movie isn’t breaking any new ground, but it at least requires no excessive jumping through hoops to get on board. Kevin Hart makes a good pairing with Ferrell, and there’s just enough that’s relevant in the premise of a white banker hiring a black man to teach him about prison to give the comedy a narrative backbone. If you just love Will Ferrell, Get Hard could easily clock in close to a 5 out of 5; if you can’t stand him, this quickly drops into “not recommended” territory. Me? While I think some of Ferrell’s quirk is played out and I squirm more than laugh during the lowest bar jokes, Get Hard still made me laugh consistently, which is harder to do than we sometimes give it credit for.