Photos: Warner Bros.
The unlikely comedic pairing of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart pays big dividends in “Get Hard,” an unapologetically crude comedy costarring Tip “T.I.” Harris, Alison Brie (“Community,” “Mad Men”), and Craig T. Nelson (“Parenthood”).
Marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”), this high-concept, lowbrow gut buster is about as politically incorrect as it gets, and all the funnier for it. Although the premise is perhaps better suited to an extended “Funny or Die” sketch than a full-length feature, the writer-director manages to pad the proceedings with enough memorable set pieces and running gags to conceal how thin the plot is stretched. A promising debut from the first-time director, with tons of laughs, a catchy rap-centric soundtrack, and a cast of A-list funnymen doing what they do best, you won’t regret serving time in the company of “Get Hard.”
In the film, Will Ferrell plays James King, an uber-rich LA-based hedge fund manager and jackass of the first order. With a sprawling Bel Air mansion, a smoking hot fiancée (Alison Brie) and a round-the-clock waiting staff tending to his every need, James indeed lives like his last name. On the other side of the income scale, there’s Darnell (Kevin Hart), a cash-strapped family man who runs a carwash out of an office building – the same office building, it turns out, where James works.
After being named a firm partner by his boss and future father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) for earning $28 million in a single day of trading, King is swiftly dethroned when the feds bust up his engagement party and arrest him on charges of embezzlement and securities fraud. And while it’s plain to see that his boss is the true culprit, James naively allows him to handle his legal defense and ends up with a ten-year sentence in San Quentin.
With only thirty days of freedom before check-in day, James, assuming most black men have been to prison, reaches out to the only one he knows, Darnell, to teach him how to survive in the clink. Of course, Darnell is as law-abiding as they come, but since his life goal is to move his family out of South Central, he agrees to teach James the finer points of “getting hard” in exchange for the thirty grand he needs to buy a house. What follows is a month-long incarceration boot camp run out of James’ mansion wherein he learns prison etiquette, how to properly (and painfully) smuggle a shiv, and a slew of other completely fabricated lessons from a guy who’s only seen the inside of a prison on television.
Writer-director Etan Cohen doesn’t offer much innovation in terms of story or visual style – this all fairly well trodden terrain – but as a purveyor of comedy gold, he’s got the goods. The screenplay by Cohen, Jay Martel and Ian Roberts (“Key and Peele”) makes the most of its goofy premise and is at its best when it unleashes these comedic heavyweights into scenarios like simulating a prison riot, perfecting the art of trash talk and initiating Will Ferrell into a street gang. Sticklers will inevitably take issue with inconsequential plot holes and the setup wearing thin in the second act, but the only real criteria for a hard R comedy is that it brings the laughs, and “Get Hard” certainly does that.
Doing a variation of his manic imbecile persona, Will Ferrell is wonderfully untethered in the role of James King, epitomized in a climactic fight scene that features him going full “mad dog” on his boss’s goons. The performance may not reach Ron Burgundy status, but it’s right up there with his turns in fan favorites like “Step Brothers,” “The Other Guys” and “Talladega Nights.” As for Kevin Hart, even though he’s cast in a relatively “straight man” role, he still pulls in plenty of chuckles with his wimp-pretending-to-be-a-gangster routine. Supporting cast standouts include Alison Brie as Ferrell’s gold digging fiancée and rapper T.I. as Darnell’s gangbanger cousin.
If you can look beyond the fact that the film is basically 100 minutes of racist and homophobic humor – and it’s doubtful the target demographic will struggle with this point – then the court recommends you locate your nearest theater and watch these pranksters perpetrate some first-degree funny.
By Lucas Mirabella
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material.
Running Time: 100 Minutes