Get Hard is a movie that puts me in a strange position. It’s nothing special, and in some spots actually kind of terrible. Yet, at times it’s kind of genial and fun which is odd given its raunchy subject matter. At a moment in movie history that is giving me comedy voids like Unfinished Business and Hot Tub Time Machine 2, I must give this movie some credit that at least somebody involved in this project was out to entertain. The movie, as a whole, is nothing more than a pile of prison jokes but I enjoyed it some of the time and at other times I simply sat stone-faced. Is that praise? I’m giving myself a headache here.
The movie stars Will Ferrell as Jimmy King, a millionaire hedge fund manager who, during his engagement party, gets arrested on charges of fraud. Convicted to ten years in San Quentin, Jimmy is given thirty days to get his affairs in order before his stretch begins. Knowing that he won’t survive, he hires Darnell (Kevin Hart), a local business man, to get him in shape for life on the inside. Darnell, of course, has never had so much as a traffic ticket, but Jimmy doesn’t know that and since Darnell needs the money to get his daughter into a school that doesn’t use a metal detector, he’s willing to go along.
The key word here is ‘gag’. This movie is all gags, its one long sketchy gag about prison rape, prison fights and prison racism. Much of it lands with a resounding thud, but there are times when I found myself laughing. That’s particularly the case with Will Ferrell whom I’ve never really liked all that much as a comedian – his usual man-child schtick gets on my nerves – but here he’s found a tone to his character, not as an overgrown child but as a genial dope who turns out to be too white for his own good. As Darnell finds his lessons in prison ethics going south, he is surprised to find that Jimmy is becoming particularly adept at things he might need behind bars – like how and where to hide contraband. This is a skill that Jimmy approaches with waaaay too much enthusiasm.
Kevin Hart too is an actor I’ve not been able to warm up to. Yet, what I discovered here is that Hart is best when he’s playing the straight man. When he tries to be a bumbling fool, as he was in Ride Along, it’s not funny. We can sense that he’s smarter than that. Here he has a very funny virtuoso scene in which he tries to prepare Ferrell for the inevitable fight in the prison exercise yard. In a bit of role playing, he moves back and forth between the roles of a black gangster, a Hispanic gang member and a gay man who wants to be Jimmy’s prison wife. What’s funny is the energy of the scene. Hart moves quickly between roles as Jimmy struggles to keep up, until Jimmy dumbly asks “Are then any French gang members? I can speak French.”
I also liked a scene in which Jimmy goes to the house of a local gangster to ask for protection while in prison and tries to ‘dress ghetto’ but he shows up wearing more colors than your local Easter basket. That scene works because what starts as a confrontation with gang-bangers ends up with Jimmy giving them sound financial advice on how to move their product more efficiently. It’s a scene that’s funnier than I expected so I laughed.
The movie has very few good moments but it has good energy and you sense that the actors are having fun. With that, I had fun too. Is a great movie? No. Is it a good movie? Not really. It’s the kind of thing you might put in on a lazy Friday night when you don’t feel like going out. I watched it, I enjoyed it, but I probably wouldn’t walk more than two blocks to see it again and on a cold night I might have to think about it. Is that praise? I’m not sure.