It’s difficult to get around the fact that the premise of Get Hard is inherently homophobic: Millionaire James King (Will Ferrell) is arrested for embezzlement and sentenced to the maximum penalty, ten years at maximum security prison San Quentin, and enlists the help of Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) to help him “get hard” in order to avoid being raped in prison. Darnell, owner of the car wash in the basement of James’s office building, is essentially the only black man Ferrell’s character knows. “Given your low economic status, your perceived lack of college education… statistically, you definitely went to prison!” James crows, and it is on this false assumption – borne of the blatantly ignorant racism the movie’s director Etan Cohen seeks to subvert, with mixed results – that an unlikely partnership is forged.
There are moments of comedy that work in this movie, but they are few and far between. The main problem is that the characters are too thinly sketched, too mired in the stereotypes they are meant to subvert. Darnell is the hardworking black man. He agrees to work with James because the $30,000 payment will allow him and his wife to purchase a house in a better neighborhood so their daughter won’t have to go to school in a gangbanger district. T.I. plays Russell, Darnell’s stereotypical gangster cousin (because of course if the black man hasn’t gone to jail, he at least has an ex-con family member). Meanwhile, Ferrell’s James King is a parody of the wealthy white finance man, fluent in numbers and obscure forms of martial arts but horribly versed in diversity. This one was okay with me, as there couldn’t be a more privileged group of people of which to make fun. However, there are also very few women with significant parts in the movie, and the majority of these are simply present as sex objects. The opening scene – involving James’s wife Alissa simultaneously seducing him and pumping him up for the work day by tossing out affirmations like “These are your titties! These are the King’s titties!” – may be considered a somewhat successful sendup of the way women can be objectified as trophies for wealthy men. However, James’s final quip to the woman who eventually leaves him once he gets arrested is that she has a “white girl butt,” suggesting her value really does lie in her sexuality. Similarly, Shonda, a woman from Russell’s gang with whom James connects, gets the most screen time when she’s twerking for him during prison visitation hours (in this scene, her face is never visible).
The only woman with some substance is Darnell’s wife Rita (Edwina Findley Dickerson), and she is a main participant in one of the few scenes that really work. She reacts to news of her husband’s new business venture:
Rita: What reason did you give to him, to assume you went to jail?
Darnell: I was being black!
Rita: You’re not exactly a thug, Darnell!
Darnell: All I got to do is talk a little deeper. ‘Hey, bitch, don’t walk away from me!’
Rita: [slaps Darnell] What the hell did you just say to me? What is wrong with you?
Darnell: [crying] Stop, stop! What is that?
Not only does Rita get to handle the slapstick comedy aspect of the movie for a moment, but she literally slaps her husband back in line when he demonstrates a hint of misogynism (not that I condone domestic violence in reality, of course).
Other moments that work: Darnell turns James’s Bel Air mansion into San Quentin, complete with restricted phone access and a barred cell that he is not allowed to leave without Darnell’s express permission, and the house staff – or prison staff, as it were – get to tell James what to for the first time. They seem to thoroughly enjoy the role reversal. It’s also pretty funny when James turns up to meet Russell’s real-life gang in an outfit Lil Wayne wore on the runway. Kevin Hart’s strongest scene is when he impersonates multiple convicts at once in the “prison yard” (James’s tennis court).
Unfortunately, Get Hard doesn’t just dabble in racist stereotypes, but includes a scene where Darnell takes James to a notorious gay hookup spot in order for him to learn how to give head – a last-ditch effort to prepare the man for prison when the “get hard” model seems to be failing. Of course, this extremely problematically conflates homosexuality with prison rape. The only saving grace is that Darnell befriends a gay man named Chris, showing the character has some capacity for tolerance.
Get Hard is a mediocre movie that delivers a handful of chuckles. If you’re not easily offended (and don’t mind an onscreen penis here or there) then you might consider seeing it – though I would save yourself the trouble and wait until it’s out of the box office.
- The chemistry is there between Hart & Ferrel
- When the jokes hit, they hit!
- Supporting characters are pretty much useless
- Stereotypical jokes get stale after a while
- No real story progression