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Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart Work Hard to ‘Get Hard’

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Will Ferrell’s comedies. I hoped that Kevin Hart’s brand of energy and the boldness of dealing head-on with racial stereotypes might give Get Hard a different dimension. No such luck. My students at USC laughed fairly often at our screening last night but I did not.

Ferrell’s stock-in-trade is a self-aware silliness. In this film he plays a clueless money manipulator who’s enjoyed the fruits of success. He lives in a ridiculously opulent home with a social-climbing fiancée (Alison Brie) whose father (Craig T. Nelson) is also his boss. He treats his Latino house staff with the same irritating condescension as the fellow (Hart) who washes cars in the garage of his office building. When Ferrell is framed for fraudulent transactions and sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison he assumes that Hart, being black, has been behind bars and can coach him on how to survive the ordeal. Honest, hard-working Hart needs money for the down payment on a house, so he swallows his pride and takes the job.

You can get all that from the trailer, so as far as I’m concerned there’s no need to invest 100 minutes in the movie itself. The comedy is heavy-handed and obvious, except when director and co-writer Etan Cohen makes a deliberate effort to break new ground. Like every R-rated comedy in recent memory, this one seeks to raise the bar (or lower it, depending on your point of view) with some racially charged encounters and a sure-to-be-talked-about scene where Ferrell attempts to practice oral sex, for the first time, with a strange man in a bathroom.

To moviegoers raised on comedies that push—or shatter—boundaries, this may represent another happy milestone. I wish I could join the celebration.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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