Chemistry is one of the most important things in comedy. How two leads play off of one another can mean life or death as far as laughs are concerned.
That being said, Will Ferrell is such a comedic force of nature you could pair him with Alan Greenspan and I would probably still at least chuckle.
Fortunately, Ferrell gets a much more capable partner in Kevin Hart in the modestly enjoyable movie “Get Hard.” Hart is a guy that has busted his hump to get to where he is and, to that end, he has always struck me as a comedian that was always trying a little too hard to be funny.
What works for him in “Get Hard” is by pairing him with Ferrell it takes a lot of pressure off of him and the result is one of Hart’s more well-rounded performances.
This movie boasts a premise with tons of potential. Ferrell plays James King, a millionaire investment banker who is busted for fraud and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security prison.
James maintains his innocence, but when his fiancé Alissa (Alison Brie) bolts and his boss/former-future-father-in-law Martin (Craig T. Nelson) offers only half-hearted support, James is left on his own with only 30 days to prepare himself for prison.
Enter Hart as Darnell, a car wash owner looking for a quick payday to buy a new house for his family. James assumes because he is a black male Darnell has been to prison and offers to pay him to help him prepare for life in the slammer.
More than happy to take James’ money, Darnell decides to pose as an ex-con and begins a patently ridiculous training program designed to toughen up the pillowy-soft James.
I laughed quite a bit at this movie, thanks primarily to the efforts of Ferrell and Hart. But, at the same time, it felt like it left a lot on the table resulting in a film that is merely a shell of what it could have been.
The comedy here is about as raunchy as it gets, although a lot of the gags keep coming back to fear-of, and variations-on, prison rape. That’s not a well you want to over-visit.
The movie also flirts with some high-minded and subversive takes on race and class relations, but then cops out and starts playing into stereotypes instead of off of them. If you have a movie packed with this many racial overtones and yet wind up feeling less edgy and insightful than “Blazing Saddles,” a movie that is over 40 (!) years old, you probably aren’t trying hard enough.
Part of this milquetoast approach might have something to do with first-time director Etan Cohen, a screenwriter who has penned some of the bolder comedies of the past 10 years (“Idiocracy” and “Tropic Thunder”). Making that leap from writer to director will probably make you less daring, especially your first time out.
That also feeds into my final criticism in that “Get Hard” never lets Ferrell get sublimely weird, like in his masterworks such as “Anchorman” or “Step Brothers.” “Get Hard” is raunchy and outrageous, but again, it still feels a little too safe.
In spite of all this, I still laughed and I was still entertained, which lands this movie on the positive end of the ledger for me. But I still can’t help but wonder what Ferrell and Hart could have done in a movie that was a little freer and a little braver.
“Get Hard” is rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material.