Did someone get to Will Ferrell, and to Adam McKay, Ferrell’s partner in Gary Sanchez Productions and one of the writers of Get Hard? Because just a few years ago, the pair made the very funny and surprisingly culturally incisive The Other Guys, with its anti-Wall Street-shenanigans theme and its amazing end credits, which basically amounted to a Michael Moore-style rant about the 2008 economic collapse. And now, Get Hard is exactly opposite of the sort of thematic followup we should have expected from them, one that utterly lacks the courage of its convictions.
Or, rather, it lacks the courage of the conviction of its antihero protagonist, Los Angeles “Wealthrop Fund” hedge fund manager James King (Ferrell: The Lego Movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), whose life of extreme comfort and privilege is slated for destruction when he is convicted of all manner of financial wrongdoing and — in a pique of ire from the presiding judge, speaking for all the angry little broke-ass people like you and me — sentenced to 10 years’ hard time in San Quentin, rather than a brief stint in a cushy Club Fed facility. Before this, Get Hard opens by ridiculing King’s absurd lifestyle: his enormous mansion with its army of servants; his luxury-obsessed fiancée (Alison Brie: The Lego Movie, The Kings of Summer). None of that is particularly funny, in fact, and I suspect it’s nowhere near anything we could call parody — I have no experience of the lifestyles of the 1-percenters, but I imagine its far more over-the-top than what we see here. Still, at this moment it’s totally plain that Get Hard has no love whatsoever for the likes of James King, and hopes to harness an understandable rage against the rich, and particularly against those who crashed the economy for the rest of us but who are still doing peachy-keen themselves. Just like The Other Guys did, in smaller part.
Except the movie then instantly shift gears and tries to make us feel bad for James. This isn’t just inept writing or poor direction that doesn’t know how to cope with an unlikeable protagonist. (Though it is that, too. This is presented with all the comedic and visual elan of an amateur YouTube fratboy prank by screenwriter turned director Etan Cohen. Not to be confused with Ethan “Coen Brothers” Coen. This Cohen is the one whose only previous directorial work is a short with the charming title of “My Wife Is Retarded.”) Because it’s not long before we are presented with the “twist” that James has been set up and is completely innocent of the particular charges he was convicted of. Get Hard does not, in fact, see James as unlikable, merely adorably inept and too trusting. We are supposed to like him!
I am imagining a cabal of Wall Street types approaching Ferrell and McKay after The Other Guys, making vague threats like, “That’s a nice investment portfolio you’ve got there, Mr. Hollywood Big Shot. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it…” And so we get a nice-guy bankster unfairly put-upon by the mean ol’ world. Poor baby!
Bizarrely, it appears we are also meant to be somewhat charmed by James’s raging bigotry and ignorance when he hires “incarceration expert” Darnell (Kevin Hart: This Is the End, The Five-Year Engagement) to “help [him] to not be someone’s bitch” in prison. James simply assumes that because Darnell is black, he must have done time, and Darnell goes along with this offense because he desperately needs the money for the down payment on a new house so his little daughter can go to a better school. So this is basically The Wedding Ringer except about prison, with Kevin Hart once again pretending to be a white man’s friend in order to ease him through a nightmare scenario not of his making. For money.
Sure, it’s nice to see a black man onscreen portraying a (relatively) decent family man and small-business owner (he runs an executive car-wash service; James is a client) rather than a thug or a drug dealer. So a few points to Get Hard for sending up some stereotypes… but then all those points and many more come right back off as the film does a 180 and wallows in those same stereotypes, and more. Hart’s impersonation of the bad men James will meet in the prison yard is cringeable, not least because we are meant to laugh at the stereotypes on display. The cognitive dissonance is strong with this movie.
And I still haven’t even gotten to the worst thing about Get Hard. Which is this: This misbegotten piece of garbage could have been called Prison Rape: The Comedy. No rape is depicted because that might have potentially required someone involved in making this to think about how unfunny rape actually is. But 95 percent of the “jokes” are about how James is certainly going to get raped in prison, yessiree; how James invents some rapey trash talk that will hopefully inspire his fellow inmates to think that he might rape them instead of the other way around; and how James might want to practice giving blowjobs in order to deflect being raped. And still, with all of this, the joke is on James, because he’s gonna get raped. Rape rapey raped. Or else he’s gonna have to become a homo. Maybe both!
Are you laughing yet?