The combined power of Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell is enough to make Get Hard's raunchy and juvenile look at prison life a whole lot of depraved fun.
In Get Hard, happy-go-lucky financial trader James King (Will Ferrell) suddenly finds himself on the bad end of a serious fraud scandal. James proclaims his innocence and is willing to fight for it; unfortunately, he quickly discovers that the justice system is no longer on the side of corporate types, and he is ultimately sentenced to a long stretch in a maximum security prison. With few options, and many threats in front of him, James turns to the one man he knows with insider knowledge of prison life: Darnell Lewis, the guy who runs the car-cleaning service in the garage of James' firm.
In exchange for $30,000, Darnell agrees to train James in prison survival. The only problem is, hard-working family-man Darnell knows as much about prison survival as James does. So when "prison school" kicks into session, it quickly becomes an education for both James and Darnell in just how hard (and dangerous) the world of prison really is.
As the directorial debut of Tropic Thunder writer Etan Cohen, Get Hard takes a demented "all stereotypes included" approach to prison life (much like Thunder did with life in the movie biz) and is successful in providing depraved and juvenile fun on the subject. As for leads Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart: they manage to strike a well-balanced chemistry that actually draws out their respective best qualities, making the pairing more entertaining then just about any of the work either man has done on his own, recently.
As a director, Cohen displays a playfulness in comedic sequencing and visual setup, often using mis-en-scene and setting as part of the gag. Thanks to cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt (Silicon Valley), the visual palette tends to be vibrantly sharp in tone (if only a little muted in tint), and combined with the visual ideas Cohen puts into some the movie's more creative sequences, it's generally a pleasing watch (aesthetically) for a comedy film. Like in Tropic Thunder, though, Cohen and Co. do have offbeat moments where they flat-out jump the line into some arguably rough and off-putting comedic antics. Genitals and gross-out injuries are both part of the tapestry alongside wit and slapstick, earning the film its R-rating in full.
The script has a handful of fingerprints on it, with Cohen and Key & Peele writers Ian Roberts and Jay Martel handling the screenplay, and story contributions by Ferrell's longtime collaborator, Adam McKay. On a surface level, Get Hard is rude, crude, and unflinchingly insensitive in its stereotyping about race, wealth, prison, and a lot of the societal issues that hang in between. However, from the opening montage (a split screen juxtaposing super wealthy and working class realities), it's clear that somewhere in the depraved mess, there is a point being made. The trajectory of the story is all-too-predictable (schemes blow up in faces, thinly-veiled deceptions are awkwardly revealed, resolution is found), but within all the overblown stereotyping, there are actually sharp comedic subversions of those same stereotypes.
Get Hard gets by and works effectively because it knows when to keep the joke on its silly, bumbling protagonists, rather than on the subjects they encounter (unless those subjects deserve to be mocked - i.e., Nazis, gang-bangers). While laughs are generated from the absurd or offensive behaviors that both James and Darnell display at times, the film also constantly reminds us that their respective views of prison life - vs the societal reality - are dangerously naive and foolish.
Those flaws leave room for the two characters to actually have a mutual arc of growth and discovery, and in wiping away the illusion of "being hard," James and Darnell (as social archetypes) manage to also dispel stereotypes and illusions about one another. It's not the most revolutionary (or even well-articulated) thematic line, but it is enough to provide a suitable center for the more outrageous gags and concepts to revolve around.
Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart turn out to be a perfect Fluffernutter comedy sandwich, if only because sharing the limelight forces each man to distill his best comedic qualities into more measured doses. For Ferrell, that means playing an oblivious but charming everyman-child without going over-the-top or drawing scenes out too long with his free-wheeling improvisational style. For Hart, it means tempering his manic, rapid-fire banter style and physical humor in order to make space for Ferrell's offbeat timing and softer comedic jabs. Taken together, we get the best of Ferrell's woozy wit mixing with the best of Hart's snappy energetic humor without either man's schtick wearing too thin.
On the supporting front, the film gets a boost from some talented ladies in Community star Alison Brie (as James' vapid rich-girl fiance), and Treme's Edwina Findley Dickerson, who provides the stereotype-busting perspective of Darnell's sensible wife, Rita. Rapper/actor Tip "T.I." Harris adds some legit street cred menace as Darnell's gang-banger cousin, Russell, while other bit actors and comedians slide into some memorable moments as James' housekeeping staff, Russell's crew, or various other figures who become part of the "prison school" curriculum. Finally, veterans like Paul Ben-Victor, Greg Germann and Craig T. Nelson fill small slots as the executives behind James' stockbroker group. As is now typical, there are also some fun celebrity cameos to look for.
In the end, the combined power of Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell is enough to make Get Hard's raunchy and juvenile look at prison life a whole lot of depraved fun. While definitely not for the easily offended, the film provides enough laugh-out-loud material and general humor to please fans of either comedian, and/or thick-skinned theatergoing fans looking for a good time.
Get Hard is now in theaters. It is 100 minutes long and is Rated R for pervasive, rude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material.