The zenith of Etan Cohen’s Get Hard is its title. You see, it has two meanings. The first describes the basic plot of the film, as millionaire James King (Will Ferrell) — who’s been framed for fraud and faces a decade in prison — hires Darnell (Kevin Hart), a clean-cut car washer, to teach him how to survive being locked up. Therefore, the pampered James literally wants to “harden” himself to prison life. The second meaning is acquiring an erection, a fact that the film tries to squeeze laughs out of (so to speak) on two different occasions. Preston Sturges this is not, obviously, but this kind of wordplay — the fact that it’s wordplay at all — and dual meaning is the height of Get Hard. That’s its peak, so you can imagine the level where the rest of it falls.
The bulk of the movie is little more than an odd-couple/buddy sort of thing, where the clueless James and the kindhearted Darnell grow and become friends or whatever. It’s really just a platform for Ferrell to mug for the camera once more, while the rest of the cast makes prison rape jokes and wallows in fits of homophobia and casual racism. A lot has been made in some circles of the rape jokes and their undertone of gay panic, and it’s all there. It’s as offensive as it sounds, but it’s also an incredibly lazy way to try and pry a laugh out of an audience. It’s the most obvious kind of humor imaginable. I remember kids in my middle school making the same stupid jokes. This is a Will Ferrell movie, after all (it’s Hart’s stage to a much lesser extent) — no one’s expecting tact here, and it’s the same damn schtick he’s been trotting out for two decades now. But it’s still enough to get him work, so insert the P.T. Barnum quote of your choice here.
Hart fares a little better, though it’s no thanks to the material — simply due to him not being Will Ferrell. (Funny observation: Ferrell and Hart made $7 million less their opening weekend than Hart and Ice Cube in last year’s Ride Along). I’ve had a complicated relationship with Hart (i.e., he’s been in a bunch of crap I’ve had to watch, but he’s been likable in a couple things and that makes me hopeful), but Get Hard does him no favors. These are Adam Sandler levels of ugly, complete with the stunted sexuality and ethnic caricatures. No one gets out alive. It’s ugly and grotesque and chintzy and one of those examples of everything that’s wrong with American comedies. But there’s such a long list of those out there — including ones starring Hart and Farrell — that it’s just another drop in the bucket. Get Hard isn’t even awful enough to be memorable, it’s merely awful. Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug material.