'Get Hard': Film Review

A passably silly but lowbrow buddy comedy

Will Ferrell asks Kevin Hart to get him ready to do hard time.

Get Hard? Get ready for a lot more double entendres, is more like it, in this buddy comedy whose premise — doughy white finance guy (Will Ferrell) enlists black man (Kevin Hart) to prepare him for a 10-year prison term — guarantees plenty of jokes about the many things men do, consensually and otherwise, in the slammer with their private parts.

The two very different comedians work fairly well together here, with an energized Hart (whose character hides the fact that he's barely more streetwise than his employer) running roughshod over a naive, fearful Ferrell. Aiming low in a way that will scare off some of Ferrell's fair-weather fans, the pic is unimaginative but does a good enough job to please the rest of them (Fans of Hart should enjoy it more).

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Ferrell plays James King, a master of the universe whose oblivious sense of entitlement is simplistically drawn, though Ferrell adorns it with a signature touch: King's propensity to parade naked through his Bel Air mansion both indulges the actor's fetish for showing his ass and illustrates King's disregard for the domestic workers who must endure this fleshy display.

King's cartoonishly materialistic fiancee (Alison Brie) is the daughter of the president of his firm (Craig T. Nelson), a cozy relationship for everyone. But these bonds evaporate when James is convicted of financial fraud. With only 30 days until his sentence begins, King turns to the first person he sees who he assumes has relevant experience: Since he knows a third of black American males do time at some point, King assumes Hart's car-wash guy Darnell Lewis knows what it's like in the joint.

Darnell's a law-abiding family man, but he sees an opportunity to make enough cash to get his family into a safer school district. So he agrees to be "prison coach" for James, getting him tough enough to avoid 10 years of beatings and rape.

Darnell's initial shock-and-awe boot camp tactics are the most amusing part of the film, though it's hard to understand why they don't go further: If you were given permission to terrorize and abuse a rich man who'd always treated you like a peasant, wouldn't you enjoy it a bit? Instead, Darnell soon decides he won't succeed in teaching James to protect himself and should instead prepare him for a decade of sodomy. So he takes James to a gay brunch (?) and tells him to go learn how to perform certain oral favors.

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Darnell also tries to set James up with people who can protect him in prison, taking him to see Russell (Tip "T.I." Harris), Darnell's cousin and the leader of a crew of thugs just as crudely imagined as the people in James King's world. Before the movie gets too lost in examining the racial politics of prison life, though, Darnell and James realize there may be a way to prove his innocence and keep him from having to touch anybody else's penis. Here's hoping.

Once or twice in the course of things, Ferrell delivers a clueless-rich-guy line in a way that recalls the haughtiness of Dan Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III in Trading Places. That film had more than a little in common with this one: clashes of race and economic class, a privileged man's fear of deprivation, a black star who could put the world on hold with the sheer energy of his patter. But Get Hard premiered two hours ago, and it already seems more dated than Trading Places — not to mention less savvy about all the subjects it pretends to be addressing while it tries to make us laugh.

Production company: Gary Sanchez
Cast: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Tip "T.I." Harris
Director: Etan Cohen
Screenwriters: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Etan Cohen
Producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy
Executive producers: Ravi Mehta, Kevin Messick, Jessica Elbaum, Steven Mnuchin
Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt
Production designer: Maher Ahmad
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: Mike Sale
Music: Christophe Beck
Casting director: Allison Jones

Rated R, 100 minutes