I like Kevin Hart. The guy makes me laugh, even in dross like The Wedding Ringer. And obviously Will Ferrell is something of a comedy legend, one of the best talents to come out of our SNL generation. And when they team up in Etan Cohen's Get Hard, they certainly deliver some laughs, many of which arise from their vast height difference, which is used to frequent and hilarious effect. But the greatest comedic geniuses of our time or any other couldn't improve on a script as basically, fundamentally wrong as Get Hard's.
Ferrell plays Wall Street tycoon James King, happily engaged to a woman who looks like Alison Brie because she is Alison Brie, and whose father (Craig T. Nelson as Martin Barrow) is King's boss. They've got a good situation going, until King is arrested at his own engagement party for embezzlement - a crime he did not commit.
Hart is Darnell Lewis, the owner of a struggling car wash business who needs thirty thousand dollars for a down payment on a home that will move his family to a nicer neighborhood and get his adorable daughter out of a scary and dangerous school district. When King is sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he assumes the black man who washes his fancy car must be a felon, and he begs Darnell to toughen him up in the month he has before he goes to prison. Darnell - whose record is as squeaky clean as King's car when he's done with it - goes along with this racist assumption for a $30k paycheck.
The elemental problem with Get Hard is that it asks us to care what happens to this racist millionaire - who also happens to be a huge John Mayer fan, in case you needed another reason to dislike him. We're meant to believe that because King is well-meaning and innocent of the specific crime of which he's accused, that he's a good person with whom we should empathize. He's only the normal kind of Wall Street crook, not the kind that embezzles! Darnell's a much more interesting character, but the journey here isn't really his - whether or not he gets his thirty thousand is hardly the central hook of Get Hard.
Let's talk about the jokes in this movie. Sometimes, they're funny - mostly, as listed above, any time the very tall Ferrell and very short Hart stand next to each other. But mostly, they're awful. There are so, so many jokes about prison rape here. This is an extraordinarily homophobic movie, one that relies on the very image of a dick to get a laugh out of the audience. Dicks are funny, because they're gross, and the very idea of one man sucking another man's dick is so incomprehensible that it's a riot! That said, that joke and many others did get a big laugh from the SXSW audience, who seemed to love the film. All of the jokes may not have landed with me, but they certainly landed with the majority of this audience.
In addition to being homophobic, the movie has some weird stuff to say about women. Darnell's wife Rita (played by Edwina Findley Dickerson) gives us one normal, respectable female characterization, and thank god for that because Alison Brie's character is a vapid, gold-digging, sex-wielding asshole, and when she leaves King the moment he needs her most, he trades up for a constantly twerking friend of a friend of Darnell's who has literally no other qualities to speak of. She twerks. That is all. That is King's romantic arc: from an asshole to an ass-shaker.
The film's treatment of race is hardly sensitive - other than the Lewis family, just about every black person in this movie is in a gang, and every Hispanic character either works on King's yard or cleans his house - but Darnell, Rita and their daughter Makayla (Ariana Neal) are so far and away the most compelling part of Get Hard that I can't help but wonder why we're spending any time on these white idiots at all.