Get Hard is funny. Not as funny as it should be - it gets pretty plotty at points - and maybe not as raucous as you hoped, but it’s funny. It’s also full of gay panic, a truly weird amount of it. Someone should have looked at this film in the edit and asked director Etan Cohen to trim some of the ‘I don’t want to get fucked by a man’ stuff, or at the very least make the film’s one gay character into an actual character.
That’s how Get Hard avoids being racist, by having Kevin Hart’s Darnell be a very average, lower middle class family man, presenting a vision of blackness that stands in stark contrast to the film’s other gangbanging black characters. That’s key when you’re making a movie that tackles race - you have to make sure that the jokes you’re making aren’t simply forwarding racist stereotypes, and I feel like Get Hard accomplishes that. Half of the joke of the movie is that Will Ferrell’s clueless One Percenter assumes Darnell is a felon because he’s a black guy who works at (actually owns, but Ferrell’s James King would never bother to find that out) a car wash. Darnell, a guy without so much as a parking ticket on his record and a daughter he wants to place in a good school, leans into that racist assumption in order to get ahead.
But the gay stuff! So you know the plot - Farrell is a stock broker who gets sentenced to 10 years in maximum security prison over fraud that bankrupted a lot of innocent people and he wants to get ready for life in the pen so he hires Kevin Hart to train him - and you also know that a man’s two biggest fears about going to prison are being physically assaulted and being sexually assaulted. This is natural, and not shameful. The problem with the way Get Hard deals with this is that it crosses a line between between being afraid of sexual assault and being afraid of gay sex. Which, you know, isn’t to say that a straight man should be excited to suck a penis if that isn’t how he’s wired, but presenting the possibility - as Get Hard does - as one of the most catastrophic outcomes possible in your life is off.
You can see the way director Etan Cohen and his writers thought they mitigated some of the gay panic - they introduce a character named Chris, played by TJ Jagodowski, who is a gay man having some relationship problems. But Chris is too sidelined, and he’s never a real character, and in the end he is still a mincing joke that just furthers the gay panic. Again, I get what Cohen and company were doing, they just didn’t pull it off.
The problem is that the gay panic stuff sort of overwhelms the middle of the movie; I’ll laugh at a good old fashioned ugly and bigoted joke if it works, but there’s so much Fear of A Buttsex Planet in Get Hard that even I couldn’t laugh at it any more. It’s not even the offensiveness of the jokes, it’s the ubiquity of them - after a while you want the film to move on to another topic. We get it, he doesn’t want to get fucked in the ass… what else you got?
Get Hard is very close to being very good. It’s clearly trying to be a film in the vein of Trading Places and Stir Crazy, and you can see Adam McKay’s social justice fingerprints on the first half, which is all about bankers and stock brokers cratering the economy. Unfortunately the movie has to make Ferrell’s James a good guy, so instead of actually being an evil capitalist he’s just a dupe who gets framed for someone else’s financial misdeeds. That sort of deflates the movie’s larger points, and defangs James’ journey. A better film would see James changing as a human being over the course of the movie, but here his arc is short. He's a good guy from the start. And because Ferrell is so goofy (which is a good thing), James’ eventual hanging out with a Compton gang isn’t a character moment but a sketch set-up. It’s a funny sketch, but it doesn’t have the depth that Trading Places found in its mismatched black and white duo.
It’s worth noting that Kevin Hart usually gives me hives - he’s just so hyper and irritating - but I really, really liked him in Get Hard. He’s actually the best part of the film, and Darnell’s journey is more involving and interesting than James’. He’s really funny - and his wife, played by Edwina Findley Dickerson, gets to be an actual human, as opposed to Alison Brie’s Alissa, James’ fiancee, whose one major scene is played in lingerie.
Get Hard gets close - it really wants to talk about race and inequality in funny ways. It just gets so hung up on making Will Ferrell a nice guy and on cracking gay jokes that it loses its way. It’s intentions are good, it’s execution is lacking.