“Get Hard” Movie Review

     The latest Will Ferrell comedy, “Get Hard”, teams him with comedic standout Kevin Hart and first time feature director Etan Cohen, whose previous credits include the screenplay for “Tropic Thunder”.  The film premiered a few weeks ago at the 2015 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas and I can only imagine the sweat bullets dripping down Cohen’s face when his film garnered the kind of reaction it did.  When the screening concluded, the trio stayed for the traditional Q&A with the audience, allowing for one audience member to say “This film seemed racist as f—k.”  Cohen could only muster an answer of “The truth is, that was a delicate balance to find.” Further commenting on how they were testing “Get Hard” while the events in Ferguson were going on.  Current racial tensions aside, “Get Hard” is merely more of the same from Ferrell, pushing him dangerously close to the territory already occupied by the likes of Adam Sandler and Vince Vaughn whose ability to make audiences laugh wore off years ago.

     “Get Hard” is chalk full of jokes that casually demean gay people, black people, white people, and every other classification of people it can get its hands on.  The film takes on the stereotypes many people already have and exaggerates them to the level that can only have a negative impact on the way various races are already perceived.  Of course, rich white people live in lavish, cavernous mansions with an army of butlers, maids, chefs, and gardeners ( all of minority descent) at their beck and call.  They drive luxury automobiles that take them to their high rise offices where they legally steal from the poor and shrink the middle class with the various loop holes within the investment banking and financial world.  After a day of making millions, they return to their vehicles, which have been washed and detailed by a minority owned car wash company deep in the bowels of the parking garage, and return home to their waiting trophy wife for a night of frolicking between the sheets.  If you buy into that being the life of a white person, than Will Ferrell’s James King is the poster child for all that is wrong in this country.  But we know this isn’t really the norm, but in this film there is no in between.  If the white people aren’t rich, they’re a casting director’s dream for “Sons of Anarchy”.

     Cohen chooses to present black people in two different ways.  In one instance, you have Kevin Hart’s Darnell, a hard working business owner who longs to move his family out of the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles in order to have his daughter go to a better school (I’m with him there, if you’ve ever watched Season 4 of “The Wire”, then you know there isn’t much learning going on in inner city schools.).  Darnell, and is wife, Rita (Edwina Dickerson), are raising their daughter, Makayla (Ariana Neal), in a small apartment and are finding it difficult to get the necessary down payment to buy a house in a good neighborhood.  As a family, they are the only real characters in the film who manage to transcend the needless discussion about race and simply go about their life as normal, hard working members of society.  Unfortunately, Cohen can’t help but to include characters such as Darnell’s cousin, Russell (T.I.), who is the leader of a notorious street gang called the Crenshaw Kings and lives in the hood surrounded with a hoard of other stereotypical thugs.  Sadly, these are the characters who white America envisions most when they think about black people.  Thanks, in part, to the media’s on going “fear the black man” campaign and films like this.

     The plot in “Get Hard” involves James being arrested and convicted of Fraud charges which net him 10 years in prison.  The running joke for the entire film is James’ fear of being raped repeatedly in prison, a point that is brought home when James approaches the only black person he knows, Darnell, who graphically describes the experience that awaits him.  James sees Darnell as a statistic and assumes that since he’s black, he has been to prison and knows how to survive.  Darnell, in need of that house down payment, sees where this is going and offers to train James to cope with prison life for $30,000.  And so it begins.  An entire second act devoted to preparing James for the rigors of prison, which he continually and miserably fails.  So much so, that Darnell decides to have James learn how to give another man oral sex and does so by taking him to a hangout of another of the film’s various targets.  It’s sad how audiences seem to take such joy in the stereotypes of gay men and how nonchalant the film eases itself into a scene where Will Ferrell is on his knees in a bathroom stall trying to talk himself into doing the deed with Matt Walsh in a cameo.  It’s amazing what we are allowed to laugh at within the confines of a movie theater’s walls, but if you were to say or do any of this outside of the theater you would likely pay with your life.  When films like “Get Hard” use gay people in this way, is it any surprise why so many of them see it as a better option to stay in the closet?  Just ask Michael Sam. 

     If these kinds of racial and gay jokes are your idea of a good time at the movies, than “Get Hard” will certainly be an option for escapist entertainment.  For me, Ferrell’s act has run its course, as he is now at the point where each of his characters have the same mannerisms and come off as more annoying than anything.  Am I surprised Cohen and his collaborators would write something that depends primarily on joking about racial perceptions?  Not really, since this is the same guy who once wrote a character that required Robert Downey Jr. to put on blackface to play a black character.  It seems there really are no boundaries, even when art collides with today’s headlines and those very people are exploited for a laugh or two.  Or perhaps the filmmakers set out to show us just how silly everyone looks when they don’t get along. Either way, “Get Hard” is too low brow to be making any sort of statement and couldn’t be saved even with Hart’s notable contributions.  GRADE: D