A controversy about this movie erupted following its premiere at SXSW when a member of the audience at the post-screening Q&A told director Etan Cohen that the movie “seemed racist as f*ck”. In response, the filmmakers said that similar criticisms of the movie are “cheap” and “lazy journalism”. The movie has been accused of inciting gay panic and of racism, and since I knew about these criticisms before I saw the movie, I went into Get Hard intent on determining whether or not it is all the bad things people say it is. In short—yes, and it’s boring, too. The weird thing, though, is that Get Hard isn’t mean-spirited. It’s just bad comedy falling short of its mark in the worst possible way.
Will Ferrell stars as James King, a hedge fund manager sentenced to ten years in San Quentin for defrauding investors, though he proclaims his innocence, and if you can’t figure out how that plotline ends within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, it’s very possible that you are a squirrel who wandered into a movie theater. Kevin Hart co-stars as Darnell, a hard-working family man trying to get his family out of their rough neighborhood and into a solidly middle-class existence, complete with schools that come without metal detectors. James ends up hiring Darnell to be his “prison coach” because he assumes Darnell has been to prison based solely on the statistic that one in three African-American men will be incarcerated in their lifetime.
The premise of Get Hard is not bad. It is, in fact, timely and relevant, and the idea of lampooning the gulfs in understanding between various groups—black and white, gay and straight, 1% and everyone else—is solid. Hart and Ferrell have good chemistry together and there are moments when their collaboration pays off. For instance, a sight gag in which James thumbs through a wad of hundred dollar bills in order to tip Darnell two bucks, and the expression on Darnell’s face, is perfect. Or the funniest line in the movie, when, after telling Darnell how he’s come to appreciate hip-hop, James says with utter conviction, “I know who killed Tupac.”
But the other ninety-three minutes of this ninety-five minute movie range from boring to intolerable. A scene in which Darnell sets James up at a gay brunch so he can learn to suck a dick is painful. (Between straight women and gay/bisexual men, over half the population is blowing someone, so stop acting like it’s the worst thing in the world.) The filmmakers’ defense for all the rape/gay sex jokes in the movie is that if someone was going to jail, they would surely be afraid of being raped. Fine, okay, but fear of rape and disgust at particular sexual acts are two different things. Everyone treats the mere IDEA of gay sex as inherently disgusting—that is homophobic. It’s both disappointing and stupefying that the brunch scene made it through all the stages of production without even one person saying, “Hey, maybe we should cut this.”
The racial humor fares little better. There’s one decent scene in which Darnell describes the plot of Boyz in the Hood when James asks why he went to jail, but otherwise it’s just stereotype upon stereotype. There was a way for Get Hard to work, if anyone involved in the movie got a little smarter about the jokes and sharpened their satire stick and went less broad with the humor. Tropic Thunder was scathingly funny in its racial satire, but it also wasn’t broad. Cohen co-wrote Tropic Thunder, but he seemed to forget that satire works best when it’s pointed. Get Hard wanted to highlight how stereotypes lead to (comical) misunderstandings, but it’s so far off the mark in its concept and execution that it ends up reinforcing those stereotypes and belittling groups who already suffer because of them. Skip Get Hard and just watch Stir Crazy instead. Now THAT is smart racial comedy.