TOM TANGNEY

‘Get Hard’ will get laughs, but it’s hardly good

Mar 27, 2015, 6:57 AM | Updated: 1:38 pm

At its premiere at the South by Southwest Festival, the new comedy “Get Hard” was attacked for being racist and homophobic. But that’s taking the film far too seriously. “Get Hard” is exactly what you’d expect from a Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart vehicle – it’s dumb, low-brow, and yes, funny, even if only intermittently.

Does it deal in the very broadest of racial and sexual stereotypes? Absolutely. Do those stereotypes include exaggerated versions of clueless rich white people? In spades. This is the very broadest of R-rated comedies.

It may indeed offend people but it shouldn’t be for its lack of sensitivity. Better grounds for objection might be its relentlessly crude and sophomoric humor. But as we all know, sometimes crude and sophomoric can be laugh-out-loud funny.

Will Ferrell plays another one of his patented dimwits, only this time he’s also a hugely successful investment banker. The movie doesn’t bother trying to reconcile these contradictory traits – stupid and smart – because it’s too busy trying to get cheap laughs – like having Ferrell walking around naked in front of his housekeeping staff, for starters.

When Ferrell’s character is framed for financial fraud, he’s quickly arrested, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison. The rest of the film covers the 30 days he’s given to get his affairs in order before his sentence is carried out.

To help him prepare for a life behind bars, he hires the guy who washes his car to teach him how to survive in prison. Why him? Because he’s the only African-American he knows and surely he’s done prison time.

The joke of the movie, of course, is that Kevin Hart’s character is a solid, if struggling, family man who’s never been anywhere near a prison. But he sure could use some of that rich man’s money, so he agrees to coach him up on thug life “on the inside.” In other words, lessons in how to “get hard.”

This premise has promise. A biting satire of race relations, perhaps. Or a knowing look at racial assumptions made by both blacks and whites. How about mining the comedic potential of turning income inequality on its ear? Or a smart-aleck take-down of society’s contrasting attitudes toward white collar and street level crime.

But that’s far beyond the reach and perhaps the interests of “Get Hard.” Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are far more interested in quick and easy laughs than sharp, insightful ones. And nothing’s easier than sex jokes. Especially prison sex jokes.

“What are you doing James?”

“Sad-dogging you. Do you think that’s a strategy that could work? Please don’t sexually assault me. I’m already too sad.”

Fair warning: There must be more male genitalia jokes in “Get Hard” than in any mainstream movie ever released. Starting with the movie’s groan-worthy title – which is repeated incessantly – and proceeding on to all manner of gags, both visual and verbal, about male rape and oral pleasuring, this film is willing to get as raunchy as it needs to get a laugh. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the laughs do come.

A few of the laughs come from clever wordplay, but most of the laughs come from the sheer shock of it all. A classic example: an extremely hesitant Will Ferrell trying out something sexual in a bathroom stall. You can practically hear the audience gasping, “We’re joking about that?” Laughs and gasps alternate, back and forth, throughout the scene.

Overall though, “Get Hard” has a pretty low laughs-to-jokes ratio, maybe one in ten. Over the course of this 100 minute movie, I laughed between fifteen and 20 times. And even then, all of the funny lines seemed random and stand-alone, as if they came from a stand-up routine rather than a carefully woven script.

You can’t deny the laughs in “Get Hard,” but it’s hard to call it a good movie.

Tom Tangney

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