Perhaps against my better judgement, I decided to watch Get Hard starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, two actors who I dislike. I went in expecting to get a really negative review out of it, but secretly I wishing for the film to be enjoyable. Much to my surprise, Get Hard isn’t as terrible as I expected. It is offensive from time to time and while I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, there are some laughs to be had in this film. Instead of being a regrettable experience, Get Hard is fun.
The film opens with James King (Will Ferrell) hilariously bawling his eyes out. What’s the source of his anguish? He has been convicted of fraud and embezzlement, and sentenced to 10 years in prison at San Quentin. As his wealth rapidly dissipates from his gold-digging now ex-fiancé Alissa (Alison Brie) to all of his material possessions, James in an exceedingly racist move seeks help from the only black guy he kind of knows: Darnell (Kevin Hart), the owner of a car washing company that washes James’ car. James hires Darnell to prepare him for prison, a prospect Darnell isn’t too happy about beyond the fact that at least he’s getting paid and that money will help his family.
One of the primary problems with Get Hard is that the premise is super racist. I bet I am not the only one who saw the trailers for this film and just shook their head. It feels outdated and one wonders why Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart agreed to be in such a film. The first 15 minutes of Get Hard play out exactly how you expect, but as things progress you start to see what perhaps might’ve attracted these actors into this story. Get Hard relies on stereotypes to introduce everything from characters to gags but it does so in order to then break those stereotypes with little changes. For example: James King assumes Darnell went to prison because he is black when in fact Darnell has never gone to prison and has as another character late points out: “the cleanest record he has ever seen.” James King on the surface looks like a white racist self-absorbed 1% when in fact he is a sensitive, fragile and compassionate white man. This is the entire approach of the film and while the results are sometimes funny, things never stop feeling offensive.
Get Hard is trying to balance itself on this fine line between being racist and empathetic, and much like his sloppy protagonist the line blurs more often than not. What we get is these racist scenarios where then the people behave slightly different from expected. Is it enough to sustain an entire film? No, but there is some degree of solace in the mere fact that at least the main characters are nice, honorable and empathetic people and not full-on walking stereotypes. Part of the problem is that once you’re aware of the film’s pattern, you are able to predict most of what is going to happen. The jokes and punch-lines become obvious and there’s only so much physical comedy these actors can do before you are mentally signing off. But for me the one element that always brought me back was Kevin Hart. Hart’s performance is incredibly effective and he has so much charisma that he’ll make you seat through anything. He is the character we care most about, he is the one that feels like an actual human being, and he is the one responsible for the most laughs in the film.
Will Ferrell, on the other hand, just seems tired. Even though he is not entirely unfunny in this film, most of what he does leaves something to be desired. His performance lacks charisma and it feels like a composite of his other performances. There’s nothing particularly new in his character here and many of his early scenes, especially with Kevin Hart, feel really uncomfortable almost like Ferrell was struggling to keep up with Hart. The chemistry is non-existent at first and they sort of find it by the end, but their friendship never quite stop feeling forced. Ferrell’s age also seems to clash too much with what is happening in the film, he looks like a grandpa trying to be cool.
Get Hard is an occasionally funny comedy that we’ll be forgotten a few days after seeing it. It is racist, homophobic and stereotypical only to then slightly subvert all those things into a point where their prominence is diminished. I like when films rupture stereotypes, as they aim to give us something different, but in Get Hard the ruptures are only marginal and not nearly enough to cloud the fact that practically every set-up in this film comes off lazy and uninspired. All is still highly predictable and no matter how good or funny Kevin Hart is, the film cannot dig itself out of the hole. As it stands, Get Hard is fun at times but in the end it will leave you soft which is not entirely surprising considering that this is a remake of a 2007 Rob Schneider straight-to-DVD comedy called Big Stan.