I prefer Will Ferrell’s clueless buffoon character over his abrasive egomaniac one. Face it: You know it will be a variation of either of these whenever the fearless actor headlines a comedy.
And in the case of “Get Hard,” a “white guy hires black guy to prepare for prison” comedy, Ferrell plays a clueless buffoon who must pretend to be an abrasive egomaniac. That’s progress, right? Less progressive is the overall film, which relies on race or homosexuality for two-thirds of its punch lines. “Get Hard” might be the perfect flick to show at your next frat party at the University of Oklahoma.
What makes the film watchable, if not palatable, is that Ferrell and co-star Kevin Hart seem like great guys in real life. Whether touring the talk show circuit or frequenting charity events, they carry a sincere, hardworking vibe. Never content to simply show up and pocket a paycheck (looking at you, Adam Sandler), they’ve proven movie after movie they’ll commit 100 percent to every scene.
In this case, Ferrell plays hotshot hedge-fund millionaire James King, who is preparing to marry Alissa (Alison Brie), the daughter of his boss (Craig T. Nelson).
“How much money are you going to make today?” she asks James upon awakening.
“Enough to choke a baby,” he replies.
But the party ends when the feds arrest him for fraud. With the justice system hoping to set an example, he’s sentenced to 10 years at San Quentin.
He’s also granted 30 days to get his affairs in order. Realizing he’ll never survive in maximum security, he enlists the only black guy he knows by name, the motormouth Darnell (Hart), who runs a car wash in the garage of his office building. Dubious statistics tell him Darnell must have been imprisoned at some point, and he figures he can pay this hardened criminal to teach him the skills to stay alive.
The fresh spin here is that Darnell is squeaky clean. He’s a loyal family man who’s never even had a parking ticket. He also begins to suspect James might be innocent of the charges.
The elaborate “prison readiness program” that Darnell concocts becomes the crux of the humor in “Get Hard.” He turns James’ tennis court into a prison yard, caged in barb wire and outfitted with guards (James’ long-suffering gardening staff). Darnell even simulates a prison riot, which unfolds via freeze-frame images of chaos under strobe lights. Also amusing is when the “white as mayonnaise” James practices his trash talk, a profane collage of words that don’t quite go together.
“You stop with your unorthodox style of cussin’,” Darnell scolds him.
The movie (directed by Etan Cohen, best known for writing “Tropic Thunder”) eventually amps up the aggression. Darnell recruits a black crew from the Crenshaw neighborhood (led by charismatic rapper T.I.) to toughen up James. They instead send him over to the racist Alliance of Whites gang. Flamethrowers and explosions ensue.
The movie follows the dodgy model established decades ago by “Stripes”: The first two acts are comedy and the final third is action.
Aside from the strobe sequence, there’s very little memorable about “Get Hard.” No artistry evident. This is merely a point-and-shoot product. The pandering, unimaginative soundtrack kicks off with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and moves on to Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” Not exactly Tarantino-style esoteria.
At least Cohen (one of the four co-writers) keeps the improvisation to a minimum. It’s an improvement over many of Ferrell’s unbridled efforts that struggle to hold together as a story. If nothing else, “Get Hard” is better than “Anchorman 2.”
How much better? Not quite enough to choke a baby.