Get Hard features Will Ferrell as James King, a millionaire hedge-fund manager who is unknowingly setup to take the fall for acts of fraud and embezzlement. And with only 30 days to prepare himself for life in San Quentin State Prison, he reaches out to Kevin Hart’s Darnell Lewis, the proprietor of a car wash and detailing service that
operates in the garage of King’s office building.
The key gag upon which the entire movie pins its premise on here is that King wrongly assumes that Darnell–a black man not as affluent as himself–is only an employee of the car wash and must have served time at one point or another. Because of this, he offers Darnell a significant payday to prepare him for life on the inside. And being eager to expand his own business (and to get back at King for years of mistreatment), Darnell willingly plays down to expectations and fumbles his way into training King to “get hard”.
Now, there’s a bit of a dance that goes on when constructing a buddy comedy, one that often requires that one of the two be the straight man–the voice of reason, in a way–to the more chaotic thoughts, words, and actions of his or her partner.
Classic partnerships like Abbot and Costello, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and even more recent pairings like Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, have proven decade after decade that there’s plenty of humor found in that spark between two conflicting personalities.
But there’s been a modern variation on this classic tune in which both leads share a similar personality, such as Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers. In this case, it’s usually two larger-than-life personalities set against an individual or world that is still very much grounded.
In Step Brothers, for example, Ferrell and Reilly’s pair of middle-aged men who act like spoiled children are initially set against each other but soon find themselves in conflict with a stern parental figure who is finally fed-up with their antics and demands the pair grow up.
These sort of movies double-down on the more wacky lead but still balances the comedy scales by having the rest of the world serve as the straight-man. Instead of the conflict being man-versus-man, it’s friends against the world.
And that’s why Get Hard seems to fall short despite the fairly funny pairing of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.
Ferrell and Hart play off one another well enough, but the movie just desperately lacks a driving conflict. There’s only so much humor and conflict to be found in King’s racially and socially insensitive comments and Hart’s go-to gimmick of a shallow tough-guy facade masking a very timid personality.
The movie repeats the same one-note joke of Hart trying and failing to toughen Ferrell up scene after scene, making it feel like a loosely connected series of sketches from Saturday Night Live instead of a 100-minute feature film. The movie’s b-story, in which King attempts to uncover the truth behind his arrest and prove his innocence, is so lazily weaved in between these other scenes that it feels like little more than afterthought. Perhaps added by a last-minute rewrite as a way to pad out the run time and maybe end the movie on a far-less somber note.
Oddly enough, had the material been played a bit more straight and focused on the relationship between these two very different individuals from two very different worlds, it might have made for a far better movie.
Ferrell’s King comes across as sympathetic and helpless in the face of a clock ticking down on the end of his freedom.
Hart’s Darnell has a convincing character arc as a man initially taking this job for the money and a bit of revenge but
eventually comes to befriend the frightened man in his care.
But by lazily falling back on a weak b-story and a happy ending that focuses on King’s exoneration rather than a
strong bond that bridges a large social divide, Get Hard is little more than two comedians hamming it up with their well-worn material on the same screen for nearly two hours.
THE SAFETY’S ON
Simply put, Get Hard plays it far too safe with its humor and story and suffers for it, squandering a comedic pairing that could have easily stood alongside some of the modern classics. This is also an R-rated comedy that, for some
reason, was afraid of pushing boundaries and playing with its audiences’ sensibilities.
Those looking for something with bite to it will be left disappointed. Those expecting to see popular comedians at the top of their game will be left disappointed. Those members of the Paul Blart fan club–a group this movie feels like more suited for–will be put off by some of the more crude or insensitive humor.
It’s too safe but also not safe enough, making it a movie without much of an audience. There are laughs to be found in it for sure, but perhaps this is an example of a movie best watched on a scene-by-scene basis rather than all at once–if at all.
And for that, sadly, I have to give this one a NO CHILL.