The one curious thing about reading early reviews is that a trend tends to emerge. In the case of Get Hard it’s been amusing to see so many film critics get into activist mode when decrying the film’s fairly casual racism, occasional homophobia and plethora of rape jokes. In the light of the Trayvon Martin and Ferguson incidents, among others, people have been on alert to not only have certain “correct” opinions and to make sure to downgrade films for not having them. And Get Hard has become a film to target for any number of reasons but not for the correct one.
It’s not funny … even in spite of a spirited performance from Kevin Hart.
Simple premise. Will Ferrell, playing a rich man variant on the usual lovable man child he’s played for nearly two decades on screen now, has 30 days before he goes to prison for 10 years on fraud charges. Unprepared for maximum security life at San Quentin, he asks the guy who washes his car every week (Kevin Hart) to help train him for prison on the basis of his skin color. The problem is that he’s never been behind bars, something that’s assumed by Ferrell’s businessman because he just happens to be African-American. With less than a month out, it’s up to the two to get Ferrell ready for some hard time behind bars.
We’ve seen a variant of this film before, as Rob Schneider went direct to video with Big Stan, but this is about as high profile as it gets for a film who’s main conceit are jokes involving a general conceit of one person trying to help another with the prevention of prison rape.
Unfortunately the film’s problem is from Ferrell, as he brings nothing new to the cinema we haven’t seen already. Ferrell has made a career out of playing idiot man child types, very successfully too, and that has a shelf life. He’s officially hit expired now as there’s nothing new to mine out of it and Get Hard features the last gasp of it. Ferrell has been unfunny before, painfully so, but he was at least fresh at that point. Ferrell’s act has no more legs and it’s painfully evident this time around. It’s evident because the film’s best moments revolve around Hart and Ferrell mainly drags the film down.
It’s a shame because this feels like a film that could’ve been much funnier if it had been made in 2004, when Ferrell’s act was still interesting on any number of levels. This feels like it would’ve been a hit back when Ferrell could make nearly anything into a commercially and critically successful hit. Ferrell has been the equivalent of a fastball pitcher who’s been reliant on being able to throw it past guys for years to get outs. As soon as he loses MPH off it he’s no longer effective because his fastball is his only weapon. Ferrell’s big weapon has been being an idiot man child, with few roles outside of this character type besides his effective work in both Stranger than Fiction and Winter Passing, and now he’s lost some of his comedy fastball.
It’s enough to make him reliant on his co-stars to help carry him with many of the comedy aspects of the film. Ferrell’s biggest hits of the past decade have been in collaboration with others. Ferrell’s comedy style has rarely been enough to carry a film on his own because he needs someone to play off of. It’s just now his end his become old and dated, with Get Hard finally becoming the film where it passes its expiration date. It’s a shame because while Kevin Hart may have been funnier in other films recently he’s more than capable here.
Hart is absolutely game, of course, and carries the film gamely but he’s being asked to turn chicken droppings into chicken salad. There isn’t much comedy to be had here because the film suffers from an awful script. For a film with such a high profile it’s so profoundly telegraphed that even the few inspired gags, including the zeal in which Ferrell’s servants get into Hart’s prison simulation, are often given short shrift to sight gags and anatomy gags featuring Ferrell naked. It stopped being funny years ago and yet it’s still the go to among Ferrell’s jokes. It becomes sad that Ferrell, given the opportunity to do something potentially different especially opposite Hart’s manic energy, is still using the same tired gags from 10-15 years ago.
That’s the saddest part of this whole thing. This is a film that has so much potential, about exploring what a man goes through before he heads off to prison, that devolves into significantly less than it could be. There’s plenty that could’ve been mined from this that’s wasted with the sort of low brow, mouth breather appealing jokes that Ferrell has made his career off of. This feels like it was a great concept, about the ignorance of one man being pulled away as he prepares for 10 years at San Quentin, that was completely changed to fit its main star and neutered in the process.
Director: Etan Cohen Writer: Jay Martel & Ian Roberts and Etan Cohen Notable Cast: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley Dickerson
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.