Get Hard (Warner Bros., R)

get hard_75The movie is basically a feature-length prison rape joke, which is probably to be expected, given the plot.

 

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I like the premise of the new Kevin Hart/Will Ferrell movie, Get Hard—a convicted white collar criminal named James (Ferrell) hires the guy who washes his car, Darnell (Hart), whom he assumes is an ex-con merely because he’s black, to toughen him up to get ready for his imminent prison sentence. Of course Darnell is both the sweetest man (and with the sweetest family) imaginable, and hardly an ex-con, but he needs the money James offers him enough that he’s willing to play the part James is assuming of him. It’s not like it requires him to commit any crimes or anything—it’s more just training so that James can defend himself once he’s on the inside.

The reality of Get Hard is a little foggier—I found myself to be about half and half on it, and as a movie it is well suited to arguing about one way or the other. Nothing as simple as, “Is it good or bad?” But more, “Is it racist or not racist?” “Exactly how homophobic is it?” Or, “Is it progressive or regressive?”

Of course Get Hard is a comedy, and I did laugh out loud maybe four or five times over the course of the movie, so it isn’t a total loss. But, one of the film’s problems as far as I’m concerned is that it takes this smart, topical plot and plays it exceptionally broad—I wish the writers (Jay Martel, Etan Cohen, Ian Roberts, with Adam McKay also getting a story credit) and director (Cohen) had kept it a little closer to the realm of the realistic.

And I should point out, all four of the above-named writers are white men, which should tell you a lot about Get Hard’s sense of humor. Regarding the, “Is it racist or not?” question, let’s take a look: Its premise is some kind of a satire of race relations and the present income gap. James was born into money, Darnell wasn’t, both are honest and hard workers (James is innocent of the white collar crimes of which he’s been accused, of course), but we find James as a near-billionaire, newly-made-partner in his stock trading firm, engaged to a gorgeous and much younger woman (Alison Brie, at once presented as nothing more than an object but also a horrible person—quite a role this is). Darnell, on the other hand, has a sweet wife (Edwina Findley Dickerson) and kid (Ariana Neal), but is struggling to make ends meet and is desperate to move out of his “gang-banger” neighborhood so that he can enroll his daughter in a safer school. So far, so good. But then, as the movie introduces more and more black characters, every last one of them is, you guessed it, a gangster. This includes Darnell’s cousin Russell (T.I.), who is the real person James should have hired. So, wait, every black character but Darnell is a criminal? However, if you pull back farther, every white person but James is also a criminal. But then, despite Darnell’s clean record and total lack of understanding of the criminal life, how is he able to switch the “act like a convincing criminal” switch so effortlessly?  Isn’t that kind of racist in itself? The whole movie is pretty much like this.

One stance it doesn’t ever substantially falter on is its homophobia, which is rampant and never once funny. The movie is basically a feature-length prison rape joke, which is probably to be expected, given the plot. What is positioned as one of the movie’s trying-to-be-memorable set pieces has Darnell and James going to a popular gay hangout, and Darnell trying to induce James to learn how to suck a dick, as that trait will come in handy on the inside. (As one might expect, this is more bait to get him to work out harder, so that he never has to suck a dick—this is a Hollywood movie targeted at young men, after all.) But in this scene, the movie actually fleetingly shows a penis! How edgy! Jesus. I mean, it’s nice that it breaks the Hollywood male vs. female nudity double standard (you see Ferrell’s ass a few times, too), but this isn’t exactly progress.

If you want to see a Hollywood comedy that is organically and unforcedly non-homophobic, go back and watch last year’s Neighbors again, and give Get Hard a pass. (And you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I was, no exaggeration, not five feet outside of the theatre auditorium after the Get Hard screening ended before I encountered a couple of males talking about how they had to turn away from the screen during the “learn how to suck a dick” scene, you know, because looking at what was probably a prosthetic penis for a half a second might make them gay.)

Where Get Hard ends up is entirely predictable, and I feel like you’d have to be something close to an idiot to feel like someone telling you the ending is “spoiling” it, but in the interest of fair criticism…Warning: I’m about to enter spoiler territory and will remain there for the rest of the review, so if you don’t want to know the hugely transparent ending, stop reading here.

What this all leads up to is the capture of the real criminal who framed James, and then a showdown between that criminal and their cronies versus James and Darnell. One would expect that James would be “hard” from Darnell’s training and suddenly useful in a fight, which is mostly the case, but instead, he uses fighting skills he learned prior to ever hiring Darnell to toughen him up in the first place. And Darnell’s something of a pansy himself, so it turns into yet another one of those movies where the white man helps the black man, who is portrayed as being ultimately defenseless. Elsewhere, James shows Russell and his crew how to make money on the stock market. What is this, The Help?

Can we have a Hollywood movie that depicts black characters standing up for themselves, without the help of a white person? Can we have a Hollywood movie that doesn’t depict homosexuality only to invoke, at best, giggles or, at worst, terror? Can we have a Hollywood comedy that has an interesting premise and actually takes it to its full potential? The answer to all of these questions is yes, but you’re not going to find it in Get Hard. | Pete Timmermann

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