★ ★ ½
Get Hard, directed by first-time feature helmer Etan Cohen, heralds the arrival of a potentially dynamic buddy-comedy duo in Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. Ferrell plays James King, a millionaire businessman specializing in stock trading. He has a huge mansion and a beautiful young fiancée (Alison Brie), and he’s about to make partner at the firm where his idol, Martin Barrow (Craig T. Nelson), works. Meanwhile, the parking garage of King’s firm contains the small car-washing business of Darnell Lewis (Hart). Lewis is barely making ends meet with his work, which involves taking care of the wealthy investment bankers’ rides. King is one of his clients, and the two have an extraordinarily awkward encounter when Lewis asks King to invest in his business.
Later, the FBI breaks up King’s engagement-party festivities with a warrant for his arrest and a laundry list of white-collar crimes that he’s being indicted for. While King maintains his innocence, he’s made an example of by the judge and handed a harsh, ten-year sentence in the infamous San Quentin State Prison. He is then given 30 days to sort out his affairs before he heads off to serve hard time. Distraught and desperate, he exhausts all of his options for escaping before he finally comes to Lewis. King, using his (very flawed) deductive reasoning, assumes that Lewis has been to the slammer, and wants to pay him for “prison training” to learn how to survive behind bars. In reality, Lewis has a squeaky clean record, but he sees this as an opportunity to fund his business and move his family out of a bad neighborhood. During the comically inept training, Lewis is compelled to help King prove his innocence and find out who framed him for the crimes.
The main draw for this popcorn flick is the film’s two leads: the accomplished Ferrell and hot commodity Hart. Ferrell steps out of his goofball comfort zone by suiting up to portray a rich and successful businessman. His wit and charm certainly aren’t diminished, and he carries the role like the veteran funnyman that he is. Hart revels in the role of sidekick and tutor, consistently riffing on the two characters’ vast differences in socioeconomic standing, race, and manliness.
The movie is smarter than you would think, but it ultimately succumbs to the recent trend of going for overly raunchy cheap gags for laughs. The montage that plays during the opening credits depicts the obvious wealth disparity of Los Angeles. A shot of a bum picking food out of a garbage can is juxtaposed with a young socialite feeding her poodle expensive food from a restaurant table. It helps set the theme of the film: the odd-couple relationship between an ultra-wealthy businessman and a down-on-his-luck family man. Unfortunately, this message is quickly tossed to the wayside, as moviegoers are immediately confronted with the bare behind of Ferrell’s character as he welcomes a new morning as an investment magnate.
While it’s unfair to expect Get Hard to provide an earnest analysis of class differences, a richer script would have made this film stand out from its contemporaries. Get Hard relies too heavily on tired shock gags—including a particularly uncomfortable bathroom rendezvous between Ferrell and comedy vet Matt Walsh—instead of the charisma of its two leads. Co-writers Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, and Cohen have crafted a script that barely scratches the surface of their actors’ capabilities. If Ferrell and Hart work together again, here’s hoping they get a story worthy of their talents.