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.