[This is a re-post of my Get Hard review from SXSW 2015. The film hits theaters nationwide on March 27th.]
The core concept behind Get Hard is pretty clever and had loads of potential, but director Etan Cohen and his co-writers, Jay Martel and Ian Roberts, don’t do much with it. If you’ve seen the film’s trailer, that’s really all there is to it.
Will Ferrell leads as James King, a hedge fund manager living the dream. He’s got an incredible house, a beautiful fiancee (Alison Brie) and his boss/soon-to-be father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) is making him a full blown partner at the company. But then he’s accused of fraud and embezzlement, sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison and given a mere 30 days to get his affairs in order. With absolutely no hope of surviving in San Quentin, James turns to Darnell (Kevin Hart) for help because he falsely assumes that he’s been to prison. That’s not the case and initially Darnell is totally offended by it, but when James offers him $30,000 to give him some prison 101, Darnell can’t pass it up because he’s desperate to make enough money to buy a home in a better school district for his daughter.
Get Hard has three things going for it, the core concept, Hart and Ferrell. The idea of seeing a rich dweeb try to “get hard” in order to prepare for life behind bars is good fun, but the writers only scratch the surface of it. Not only does the film’s trailer spoil a good deal of the stronger gags, but the never-before-seen material isn’t all that exciting either because it’s exactly what you’d expect from a film about a naive white man who just assumes the black guy who’s been washing his car for years has gone to prison. The scenario grows tired especially fast because the large majority of the jokes are the ones you’d assume a movie like this would make, they’re not particularly funny and some are also off-putting and offensive.
However, that’s not to say that Get Hard is a terrible watch. It certainly isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but Ferrell and Hart are charming enough to make it a somewhat pleasant experience. I thought I’d eventually lose patience with Ferrell’s “dumbest genius” shtick, but he actually manages to sell James as a likable person. And the same goes for Hart as well. He may be lying to James about going to prison, but he’s got good intentions. Not only is the guy trying to make a better life for his daughter, but he also genuinely cares about what happens to James as well.
The only supporting characters who manage to make a mark are Edwina Findley Dickerson as Darnell’s wife, Rita, and Ariana Neal as their daughter, Makayla. Again, a good deal of their jokes are either predictable or spoiled in the trailer, but Dickerson and Neal both have spot-on timing and their gags also get a nice boost from the fact that they actually feel like a family. Nelson and Brie don’t fare as well. Brie is so over-the-top her performance is abrasive and there’s just nothing interesting or unique about Nelson’s character whatsoever.
There also isn’t anything particularly special about how Get Hard is shot either. Cohen does a totally adequate job that makes for a decent first feature, but there’s absolutely no personal style to the film. The locations are also surprisingly bland. There is some fun to be had with seeing James’ mansion turn into a makeshift prison, but similar to the humor in the film, there are no surprises.
If you must see Get Hard for whatever reason, it’s a totally adequate watch. The Paramount at SXSW was packed last night and there was a good deal of laughs all-around, but there’s also no denying that there are quite a few jokes in the mix that are uncomfortably inappropriate. Hart and Ferrell certainly have tons of chemistry and I wouldn’t mind seeing them headline another comedy soon, but as far as Get Hard goes, their charisma alone isn’t enough to make it a good film.