Starting off as a potential-loaded Trading Places reboot, Get Hard veers dramatically off course and becomes a buddy movie in the mould of many other recent comedies. Despite some controversy-baiting gags at obvious targets, there are enough laughs here for most cinema-goers. Most critics, however, will hate it.
Millionaire hedge fund manager James King (Will Ferrell) has his perfect life shattered when he is found guilty of fraud. He is given thirty days to put his affairs in order even though he pleads he is innocent. His fiancée (Alison Brie) soon turns her back on him, although his father-in-law to be insists he will clear his name of all wrong-doing. In the meantime, a desperate James looks for someone to toughen him up just in case he can’t overturn the legal ruling. With a shortage of criminal acquaintances in his phone book – at least a shortage of those who have been to a maximum security prison – James asks for help from a man he has previously looked down on. Darnell has washed James’ car for many years now, and is initially outraged at the suggestion that he has served time purely because he is black. In a rash moment of his own, however, he lies and says he will help… for a fee. Making it up as he goes along, Darnell turns James’ luxury mansion into a prison, complete with “yard rules” and plenty of tough lessons. He also enlists his gang-member cousin, who really is tough, to help the bamboozled rich man “get hard”.
Playing on stereotypes that the filmmaker is convinced are rife amongst the audience, Get Hard is a love it or loathe it affair. At least in terms of concept that is. Can you get on-board with its digs at white guilt, black gang culture and prison depravity? It also takes pot shots at the gay dating scene and the rich/poor divide in America.
It does so lacking any subtlety, and anyone who thinks they might dislike it, will dislike it.
Kevin Hart, plays the straight man and its a role he is actually good at. His overly whiny persona is usually turned up to unbearable levels in his previous films, including the unfunny but popular Ride Along, but he does a smart job here in allowing Ferrell to play in the margins. In return Darnell is a likeable character that we can relate with.
Ferrell is on full “Man-child” mode; a rich white man who is basically Buddy the Elf in a suit. It’s hard to dislike him, but the sense of humour he portrays does fluctuate in quality at random moments. This is where the film becomes more of a three-star affair. Some jokes are clever and well-structured; others just crass and offensive. There is little in the way of moderation, either in terms of the subject matter or in terms of quality-control of the script.
One area the film does fail in, is in the depiction of female characters. Alison Brie is reduced to a shrill side-act who spends most of her time on screen in her underwear. There is no-one to counter-act this, with Darnell’s wife given even less screen time and a hasty love-interest tacked onto the end of the film to give James some semblance of closure.
I feel like I laughed more than I should have, and for that there is a part of me that accepts the any flaws of this film. For all the problems it has, it does at least try hard.