GET HARD (2015) Should Get Real

MOVIE REVIEW:  GET HARD (2015)

By Michael ArrudaGet Hard - poster

 

I can think of a few better titles for GET HARD (2015), the new comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.  To borrow from the classic 1960s TV show, GET SMART comes to mind.  GET REAL would fit.  GET FUNNY would work best of all.  Had this movie been any one of these three things, it would have been a helluva lot better, that’s for sure.

GET HARD is the story of two men whose paths cross in what is supposed to be a humorous predicament, and it is, for a brief time, but on its own, it’s certainly not enough to carry an entire movie.  It needs more.

Millionaire James King (Will Ferrell) has it all:  a luxurious mansion, beautiful fiancée Alissa (Alison Brie), a job in which he makes as much money in a day as most people do in a lifetime, and he works for his future father-in-law Martin (Craig T. Nelson) who pretty much has just handed him over the keys to the company.

Darnell (Kevin Hart) isn’t so fortunate.  Although he too has a beautiful wife Rita (Edwina Findley Dickerson) and a lovely daughter Makayla (Ariana Neal), his job washing cars for James’ company barely pays their bills.

Their paths cross when James is arrested for fraud, a crime he says he did not commit.  He is sentenced to prison, and fearing for his life, he turns to Darnell for help, since he foolishly believes Darnell spent time in prison.  Darnell is ready to punch James out for thinking he’s an ex-con until James says he will pay him handsomely for his help, at which time Darnell agrees to teach James how to be tough and survive in prison.

And that’s the set-up for this one joke movie, which if you’ve seen the previews, you know already.  There aren’t any surprises left.  GET HARD would have been a very funny Saturday Night Live skit, but as a feature length movie, it doesn’t cut it.

Admittedly, most of the jokes are in fact funny.  Will Ferrell hams it up and is perfectly cast as the innocent hedge fund manager who’s been falsely set up for his crime.  When he tries to act tough and cool, he’s funny.  When he goes off on a tirade of verbal insults and profanities to prove how hardened he is, he’s funny.  When he flat out cries because he’s a wimpy coward, he’s also funny.  But all of this humor comes from situations that work only on the level of a comedy sketch.  They don’t work in a feature length movie because as soon as the jokes stop, there’s nothing left to sustain interest because the story is dull and inane.

For example, at one point in the film, Darnell introduces Frank to his cousin Russell (T.I.) who is a hardened criminal and the leader of a ruthless gang, the Crenshaw Kings.  Frank briefly considers joining this gang but doesn’t.  Had Frank actually joined this gang, and had he taken part in some real crimes, then this would have placed the story in unchartered territory— what would have happened to Frank had he actually broken the law would have been interesting and as a result, funny.  A situation like this would have lifted the movie to a different more credible level, because at that point, the story would have become unpredictable and fresh.  Instead, Frank returns to Darnell and they continue their silly harmless training, the results of which you can see coming a mile away.

On that note, the movie is extremely predictable, which does not help this comedy one bit.  For example, you know from the get-go who it is who set Frank up, and the film does nothing to steer you in any other direction but the obvious.

Thankfully, some of the jokes are really funny.  I liked the bit where Frank as part of his training has to pick a fight with some tough looking guys, although I did see most of this scene in the film’s trailer.  The wacky pandemonium where Darnell simulates a prison riot is also good for a few laughs.

But other jokes fall flat.  The film is obsessed with Frank’s fears of being raped in prison, and there are far too many jokes on this subject.  The scene where Frank tries to perform oral sex on another man also misfires because the only thing funny about this scene is supposed to be the situation itself which in reality isn’t funny at all.  Had something gone terribly wrong or something unexpected happened, then that would have lifted the comedy in this bit, but this movie is not that clever.

There’s also a recurring gag about Frank hiding items up his rectum.  It was funny the first time but grew old quick.

I like Will Ferrell, but I’ve been enjoying his films less and less.  Not sure why, other than I’m simply not laughing all that much.  I think Ferrell needs to go for roles that either have more substance so they can sustain the duration of a feature length film or that are so insanely over the top that you can’t stop laughing and so you’re not even thinking about the plot.

I’m still waiting for Kevin Hart to land his break-out role.  This isn’t it, although Hart certainly enjoys as many good moments in this film as Ferrell does.  They’re equally as funny in this mostly unimaginative comedy.  Hart is a comical guy, but he hasn’t reached that next level yet, that moment where he takes over a movie and makes you forget everything else about the film but him.  I think he’s on the path to making this leap with the right movie and the right role.

Alison Brie (from TV’s MAD MEN) has the ability to take your breath away just by looking at her and listening to her speak, but her role as Frank’s fiancée is clichéd and trite from start to finish.  Likewise, Craig T. Nelson’s father-in-law Martin is also a walking cliché and adds nothing to this movie.

Edwina Findley Dickerson fares better as Darnell’s wife Rita and she at least gets to enjoy some funny moments. She also comes off as a three dimensional genuine person.  The same can be said for young Ariana Neal as their daughter Makayla.

I also liked T.I. as Darnell’s convict cousin Russell.  He’s convincing as a genuine bad-ass, and had he been in this film more, had he somehow gotten involved more with Frank and Darnell, this film would have been much funnier because it would have had an edge to it.

GET HARD was directed by Etan Cohen, and it’s his first feature film directing credit.  Before this he had worked as a screenwriter penning such films as TROPIC THUNDER (2008) and MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012).  I didn’t really have any problem with his direction here, as the film plays out exactly as you would expect:  a polished Hollywood comedy.  That being said, it does nothing to make itself stand above other comedies.

The screenplay was written by Cohen, Jay Martel, and Ian Roberts and works on the level of a one-joke comedy.  The idea for this movie is a humorous one, and the jokes which support this idea— having Will Ferrell train to become tough and hardened for prison— work for the most part, but as a feature length film, it falters because there’s nothing in the story other than the gags to sustain one’s interest for its 100 minute running time.

I knew from the outset what was going to happen to Frank and Darnell.  Seriously, in a movie like this, is there really any doubt about what’s going to happen to these guys?  Did I really think Frank was going to prison?  Or that Darnell wouldn’t earn enough money to lift his family out of their financial predicament?  No.  And so in terms of story, the witticisms have no relevance.

While there were plenty of funny jokes in GET HARD, there weren’t enough, and when I wasn’t laughing I was bored, because other than Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart hamming it up, this movie has nothing to offer.

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