‘I’ ON CULTURE
I actually dreaded going to see Get Hard, the new Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart film, but it turned out that it was not a complete dud. That would be a small victory, though. It is still a weak movie. The plot is outlandish, the characters ridiculous stereotypes, with most action reserved for the very end. There were points, however, where I laughed. And these days, that can go a long way.
The plot is a farce, and set up perhaps as a three-minute Saturday Night Live skit it would do, but in this film, it has to be carried for two hours. James (Ferrell) is shown as a classic example of “white privilege,” living an incredibly wealthy, satisfying life doing Wall Street work. Suddenly, his future father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) charges him with fraud, and he is sentenced to 10 years at San Quentin. Never mind that Michael Milken, symbol of Wall Street greed, only served two years at a nice federal prison. It is much more fun to pretend that rich white-collar crime that often damages many of us gets the kind of sentence reserved for violent criminals.
James is terrified of prison and goes to the only black man he knows, Darnell (Hart), who runs the car wash he uses. He offers $30,000 as the price for teaching him how to survive prison. Darnell, who has never been in prison and is as middle-class as they come, decides to take the money. The middle of the film is a long, dragging set of gags designed to make James seem tough while helplessly pathetic. A few of them are funny; not as funny as the premise might promise, however. Watching the pathetic James trying to make deals with a white neo-Nazi biker gang (talk about stereotypes) and then a black gang, where the semi-revolutionary members get into a discussion of 401(k)s, does have promise if not nearly enough humor. There is far too much focus on prison rape, and a scene where James winds up at a gay bar to be taught how to “satisfy” men is not for kids or the squeamish. As per the usual Ferrell movie, we do get a long shot of his naked buttocks.
The real problem with the film is that the characters never really grow, never change. In some ways, this could have been a redone version of Trading Places, where a rich white man and poor black man change places and learn a lot about common humanity while pulling off a scam so real that Wall Street insiders actually liked the movie. But in this movie, the two men never really learn from each other. Ferrell plays the hysteric until close to the end where the need for a happy ending and resolution to the movie suddenly turns him into a detective who figures out who is framing him (it took me about 10 seconds to solve the case an hour earlier) and then some action to ensure that James does not go to prison.
Ferrell plays his usual goofy persona; those who like it might actually enjoy the film. Hart is better; he manages to add some humanity to his part, although his nervous patter can get on one’s nerves after an hour. Nelson and Alison Brie, as James’ fiancée, do a nice job of being nasty. I liked rapper T.I. as the black gang leader rather more than most of the others. Of course, in a movie like this one, the fact that just about every part is a stereotype gets in the way.
Yet, despite the resolute silliness throughout, there are laughs. It seems that in some ways scriptwriters Ian Roberts and Jay Martel, along with director Etan Cohen, put together a string of “trailer moments,” quick jokes that sound great and just do not create a coherent story.
It is a shame that the film is not better. It could have been; it should have been. The premise is a good one. But since it refused to go beyond the stereotypes and descended into silliness, it was wasted. My main thought on leaving was, “Boy, what Mel Brooks could have done with this.” But Cohen is not Brooks.
It is not an awful movie, but spending $10 to see it would be as bad an investment as those made by James’ clients. And he was sentenced to prison. Look for other, better films, although that is tough this time of year.