Get Hard is an episodic comedy that seems determined to botch its ‘can’t miss’ premise. No amount of riffing from Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart can overcome a script that’s obviously cobbled together from multiple projects. Director Etan Cohen’s feature-length debut lacks the big-ticket gags to overcome its flawed execution. Ultimately, this is a ‘star vehicle’ that should have stayed in the driveway.
There are three films battling for the soul of Get Hard. The first has a Trading Places vibe. We get the typical class warfare sequences, such as the obnoxious millionaire snob (Farrell) being terrified of minorities or flashing his wiener at house staff like it’s their duty to admire it. Nothing new to see here, but Farrell makes it (almost) work with his inherent likeability.
Hart’s character, however, is more problematic. Rather than playing the ‘streetwise hustler’ role made famous by Eddie Murphy, Hart’s character is a hardworking, law-abiding family man. It’s genetically engineered to be a thankless ‘straight-man’ role; the incredulous guy who reacts when Ferrell does something stupid. Unfortunately, both Hart and Ferrell are accustomed to playing first chair. Here, they don’t work in concert so much as trade solos, which derails all of the class dynamics and tension. Get Hard needs Hart and Ferrell to hate each other, but they feel more like two drunk buddies competing over who gets to sing the next round of karaoke.
When the class angle finally plays itself out (with literally no laughs), the second film takes over. This section is a series of disjointed skits in which Hart teaches Ferrell how to survive in prison. Ferrell supposedly embezzled a bunch of cash and now has 30 days before he’s shipped to Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison (thank you, Office Space). This harsh sentence would never happen in the real world, of course, but Ferrell apparently caught an activist judge on a bad day, so whatever. If you’ve seen the trailer for Get Hard, you’ve seen all the highlights from this section. Considering these are the funniest parts of the film, it means, by extension, you’ve seen the funniest parts of Get Hard without enduring the remaining 90 minutes.
The critical problem, and the reason why Get Hard is so shockingly unfunny, is that the writers are flummoxed by their own comic premise. The humor should come from Hart, a straight arrow who knows nothing about prison, struggling to design training exercises for Ferrell, who blindly plays along due to his racial prejudices. One clueless idiot victimizes another clueless idiot until they both learn not to be clueless idiots… together. There’s your movie!
Bizarrely, writers Martel, Roberts, and Cohen give Hart a gangster cousin (played by the performer T.I.) who provides a ready-made cheat sheet of prison do’s and don’ts. So instead of bullshitting his way through the training scenes and punishing Ferrell for his entitled, racist beliefs, Hart simply screams instructions from his checklist. His only inspired idea (which is included in the movie’s trailer) involves simulating a prison riot at Ferrell’s palatial estate. It’s a peek into what Get Hard might have been had the screenwriters capitalized on their premise.
The training portion now complete, Get Hard transitions into the third and final movie; “Operation: Happy Ending.” It turns out that Ferrell might actually be innocent, so he and Hart go into ‘buddy comedy’ mode to find the real embezzler. To call this section of the movie lazy would be an insult to your beer-swilling uncle who refuses to get a job. It’s yet another baffling decision by Cohen, who completely neutralizes Ferrell and Hart by giving them nothing interesting to do. Hart, in particular, recedes into the background, occasionally re-appearing to scream and be obnoxious. These listless action sequences are eerily reminiscent of last year’s dullest comedy, Let’s Be Cops; another movie with a dynamite premise that blew up in the filmmaker’s face.
There’s a movie to be made where Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart push each other to comedic heights, but it’s certainly not Get Hard. Penis and anal rape jokes aside, there’s just no edge to this film. There aren’t even enough questionable gags for the filmmakers to be accused of racism or homophobia. It’s a confused, harmless affair that squanders two of the hottest comedians working in film.