Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip “T.I.” Harris
Directed by: Etan Cohen (debut)
Written by: Jay Martel (debut) & Ian Roberts (debut) and Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”)
There are two distinct types of Will Ferrell comedies. The first is the variety he’s heavily involved in with writing partner and director Adam McKay (here only a producer), turning out a screenplay that feels like it’s been work shopped in Ferrell’s absurdist head for years before funding for the film came through, like the legendary “Anchorman” or “Step Brothers.” Then there’s the other type, where Ferrell is an actor for hire, adding some surface-level lunacy to a ho-hum script. You can feel him being a team player, but he’s not really invested in the material. Ferrell’s latest, “Get Hard,” featuring the currently-hot Kevin Hart as his co-star, falls squarely into the lesser Ferrell movie category, likely with more racism and homophobia than you might expect from an R-rated comedy in 2015.
Ferrell stars as James King, a somewhat dim multi-millionaire Wall Street broker set to marry the gold-digging daughter (Alison Brie) of his cutthroat boss (Craig T. Nelson). King crosses paths daily with Darnell (Hart), the hard-working owner of a car wash service for the rich brokers in the firm, looking to scrape together $30 grand to move his family to a new home in a nicer part of town. When King is framed and convicted of fraud, a judge throws the book at him, foregoing the typical white collar minimum security sentence and instead sending King off to San Quentin for 10 years. Terrified for what will become of his life–and, frankly, his anal virginity—behind bars, the lily-white King solicits help from Darnell who, because he’s black, King assumes has been to prison. Darnell has not, in fact, ever been incarcerated, but he takes King’s money to become his prison coach anyway, which mostly amounts to scene after scene of the two men discussing how to prevent ass rape.
Sure, there are a few good laughs in “Get Hard,” but there’s also a weird discomfort to the whole thing. While I personally don’t see the film crossing the line into blatantly racist or homophobic territory (as a straight white man, I have little to be offended about personally by either topic, I admit, so maybe I’m not the best one to ask), the movie just isn’t sharp or funny enough to give it the bulletproof satirical armor it needs to defend itself from the attacks it knows it will provoke. Is it funny for a group of black inner-city males to joke about how much they love murdering people? Is it funny to see Will Ferrell revolted-yet-determined to suck a dick in a bathroom stall? Well, yeah, I guess, but in 2015, you need to make sure people are laughing for the right reasons, otherwise you have to explain yourself, and that’s the death of comedy.