There is nothing funny about sexual assault. Why are we still doing this? For some reason, Get Hard bases its entire premise around the idea that the only way to prevent a rich white dude’s “inevitable” sexual assault is to have him go to a black man for help, because of course, the only black guy he’s spoken to has recently been to prison. The joke is supposed to be that Darnell (Kevin Hart) has actually never been to prison and has no idea how to help James (Will Ferrell) prevent this possibility, so he sets up a plan of action and training in exchange for some financial assistance. Let’s ignore the fact that Darnell only asks for $30,000 from James, who made his entire living from generating millions of dollars, and by his own admission could buy a new car every time the old one gets dirty.
Darnell is the owner of a car cleaning company that operates out of the garage of the company Ferrell works for, and has a family. His wife immediately chastises him for this 30-day agreement, and Darnell acknowledges his complete lack of experience by calling upon his previously incarcerated cousin Russell (T.I.) for advice, starting from day one. Darnell’s reasoning is that the money will help his daughter get out of the dangerous-looking elementary school she must attend, complete with police and metal detectors patrolling the door. Though Darnell is well meaning, he quickly discovers that James will need a lot more help than he can give him alone.
Now, I’m not going to say that this is a completely unfunny movie. The packed theater laughed loudly and often, regardless of the quality of the jokes, which straddled the low and the topical, with equal time given to Hart and Farrell to strut their stuff. Get Hard simply should be much funnier than it is, and that is the problem. It should not rely on such an awful premise, and perhaps if Ferrell and Hart had a hand in the script, it’d be much better. There were moments of social commentary that were damning to stereotypes, only to be completely obliterated in the next scene, and vice versa. This is a movie where a black gang member says, “Murder is my favorite,” while discussing finance, business deals and smashing competing company’s business. Later on he gets into a heated discussion with a friend about IRAs.
Probably the best element of the film was the conversion of James’ mansion to a prison, to fully immerse him in the life he would soon be leading. Those who previously worked as groundskeepers, cooks, and maids giddily role-played as guards and other prisoners. They set up barbed wire fencing, lights, a curfew, and changed James’ tennis court into “the yard.” James uses a bucket as a toilet. The house training sequences are very funny.
While Darnell’s controlled strategy inside the house feels like a win for the masses, other elements of his plan fall flat. At one point, it looks so bleak that Darnell decides James needs to just go out and fight random men in the park to toughen up. When there are only 12 days left until his prison sentence begins, Darnell decides that James should learn how to submit to rape, instead of fighting back. Yeah. But it’s about survival, right?
The film has few jokes that are not based around race, sexual assault, or homophobia. I counted at least five visual jokes about Kevin Hart’s height and Ferrell brought his trademark physical comedy when he demonstrated capoeira. James’ complete inability to toughen up had very faint echoes of Ferrell’s character Buddy in Elf, except now he’s the rich jerk guy that people dislike. He has an innocence that makes you pity him, because he’s clearly never had anything go wrong in his life before. After James comes over for a dinner with Darnell’s family, Darnell’s daughter remarks, “He will not last in prison. He wouldn’t even last in my school.” Ouch.
Both leads are better than what they were given to work with, and it’s unfortunate. As I exited the theater, I heard a woman remark, “My friend thought this would be corny but I told her, ‘It’s Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart!’” The star power is enough of a draw that this film will do well, but the rape jokes are the centerpiece of a film that had much better potential just from the idea of those two comedians working together. I’m disappointed that both actors took the roles, because otherwise the film probably wouldn’t have been made at all. I suppose this was a smart decision for both actors in that Hart’s career is at a high, but there are many other scenarios that could’ve brought them together that would have made for a better story and would not be as grossly offensive.