2.5 stars. Rated R, for pervasive crude and sexual content, relentless profanity, graphic nudity and drug references
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.27.15
If relentless vulgarity and blithe racism, sexism and homophobia can be considered an art form, then I guess Will Ferrell is a Rembrandt.
There may be a racial, gender or religious faction left unsmeared by Ferrell’s newest foray into moron comedy, but it’d be hard to determine who got left behind.
And, no doubt, that would have been an oversight. I’m sure scripters Adam McKay, Jay Martel, Ian Roberts and Etan Cohen — the latter also occupying the director’s chair — intended to be equal-opportunity offensive.
Get Hard is typical Ferrell, with the Saturday Night Live veteran swanning through yet another contrived plot constructed around its boorish sight gags. By no means can what Ferrell does be termed acting, since his entire persona is built around a naïve twit alter-ego who cheerfully, unwittingly, insults and outrages everybody within his orbit.
This gimmick has served him well for 20 years, so I guess he sees no reason to change. And it could be argued that viewer indignation and disgust are tempered by the fact that Ferrell works hardest to make fun of himself. He clearly knows that his various screen characters are ignorant, clueless boobs, and he revels in their boobishness.
Which, in a weird way, makes his behavior more palatable.
A bit more palatable, anyway.
Because — as always is the case — a little of Will Ferrell goes a long, long way, and 100 minutes of him in Get Hard might have been difficult to endure ... were in not for the truly hilarious presence of co-star Kevin Hart.
Frankly, Hart should get top billing. He runs away with this film, stealing every scene he’s in, and he’s a helluva lot funnier than Ferrell. Hart has the rhythmic physical grace, streetwise savvy and impeccable comic timing of a young Eddie Murphy at his prime: a vibrant screen presence that couldn’t be a more welcome alternative to Ferrell’s insipid white-bread doofus.
The story, such as it is:
Hedge fund manager James (Ferrell) is a golden boy who makes pots of money for himself, his company and its founder, Martin (Craig T. Nelson). James lives in a loutishly ostentatious mansion with his spoiled, gold-digging fiancée, Alissa (Alison Brie), who happens to be Martin’s daughter. Everybody seems happy — in an entitled, one-percentish way — aside from the estate’s eternally put-upon staff, who silently endure James’ callous indifference.
Then, calamity: James is arrested for insider trading, a supposed transgression that he genuinely knows nothing about. Putting his faith in justice, he maintains his innocence during the fastest trial in California history ... and winds up sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor in San Quentin. Terrified of what’ll happen to him in prison, and given 30 days to put his affairs in order, James frantically searches for somebody who can help “prepare” him for hard time.
And, naturally, fixes on Darnell (Hart), who runs the modest basement firm that washes all the company cars while their owners are making Wall Street history upstairs. This choice is made solely because Darnell is black, and of course all black men have done jail time.
To the script’s credit, Darnell is allowed an appropriate level of righteous indignation. Truth is, he’s a hard-working family man with a loving wife (Edwina Findley Dickerson, as Rita) and an adorable daughter (Ariana Neal, as Makayla). But Darnell also is ambitious, and needs seed money to make a go of his car-wash endeavor, and so agrees to this preposterous proposal.
What follows is a case of the blind leading the blind, since Darnell certainly has no experience from which to draw. But he’s full of wild ’n’ crazy ideas, starting with a makeover of James’ home, to create an ersatz jail cell (from the study) and prison yard (the tennis court). James’ staff revels in the opportunity to abuse their boss, as a means of toughening him up, but the cause is hopeless.
As the days pass, Darnell employs increasingly dangerous tactics, such as trying to get James “protection” from, alternatively, a posse of white supremacists, or the formidable Crenshaw Kings, a black gang run by Russell (T.I. “Tip” Harris), who happens to be Darnell’s cousin. The latter effort moves in a mildly amusing direction, in part due to droll supporting turns from Ron Funches, as the gleefully homicidal JoJo, and Joshua Joseph Gillum, as the equally dangerous Rico.
The film flounders in less successful waters when Darnell decides that James’ only hope for prison survival is to embrace homosexuality by ... well ... opening wide. There’s simply no way to discuss this plot detour in a family-friendly newspaper; let’s just say that the execution is as coarse as possible, and explores on-camera territory akin to the quick shots of Ben Stiller’s “frank and beans” in There’s Something About Mary, or the floating appendage that Jerry O’Connell has lost in Piranha 3D.
Which makes rather a mockery of this film’s R rating, but that’s a conversation for a different day.
I’d also argue that the anatomical inserts, however fleeting, are wholly unnecessary; Ferrell sells the scene quite successfully with his contorted and resigned expressions (one of the few times he truly comes to life in this film). But, then, that’s par for the course for Cohen’s directorial sensibilities; why else would he include a gratuitous shot of Ferrell using a large plastic bucket for a toilet?
Get Hard marks Cohen’s directorial debut; he entered the industry as a writer for television’s King of the Hill, and graduated to big-screen scripting assists on the likes of Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder. In other words, Cohen doesn’t know from subtlety, which makes him ideal for Ferrell’s equally broad style of humor.
And yet ... while most of the sidebar characters are burlesques or grotesques, Cohen does develop a fitfully amusing — even touching, at times — Mutt ’n’ Jeff relationship between James and Darnell. Goodness, they’re funny simply standing next to each other, with Ferrell’s 6-foot-3 towering above Hart’s 5-foot-4.
At its best moments, Hart’s dynamic with Ferrell evokes pleasant memories of Richard Pryor’s attempt to make Gene Wilder “hip” in 1976’s Silver Streak.
Most of the time, though, this film tries much too hard. It’s a scattershot effort, akin to a typical Farrelly brothers or Judd Apatow lowest-common-denominator comedy. The four credited writers notwithstanding, such scripting is more like throwing a bowl of spaghetti on the wall, and hoping that something sticks.
Or a better comparison: This sort of movie-making is like a stage musical that doesn’t bother with out-of-town tryouts, but instead opens on Broadway, warts and all, with an indiscriminate mix of its good and bad elements. In other words, no filter.
All of which is way too much analysis for this no-rent trifle. Ferrell’s fans will embrace Get Hard with enthusiasm and delight, as was obvious during Monday evening’s full-house preview screening. I’d like to think that Hart will benefit the most, though, because he deserves to move on to bigger and better projects.
Ferrell, sadly, remains at the top of his very, very limited game.