Ferrell plays James King, a millionaire hedge fund manager who seemingly has it all, from the riches to the attractive fiancée (an underused Brie). That all changes when he is wrongfully convicted of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin prison with only 30 days to get his affairs in order. Growing increasingly desperate, he makes a $30,000 deal with his car washer Darnell (Hart) – whom he ignorantly assumes has been to jail because he’s black – to tutor him on how to survive on the inside.
For its first 10 minutes there’s more than a touch of Trading Places about Get Hard, with the film even going so far as to have a split-screen showing the differences in James’ and Darnell’s typical mornings. This quickly gives way to an altogether different narrative though, and what we’re given is not quite funny enough to assuage notions of what might have been.
When you are playing with gay and racial stereotypes you need to handle it with care. For every bit of dialogue that lands however – and it must be said, Get Hard passes the laugh test – there’s a gag that goes on too long and runs out of steam or a joke that really had no business making it to screen. In the latter regard, a sequence that takes place at a gay dating scene mid-film feels especially ill-advised and cringe-worthy. Somewhere in Get Hard there’s an interesting dialogue on racial and gay stereotypes, but the film never quite gets to the heart of it. That isn’t the only poor narrative choice. Throughout the film we’re constantly counting down the days until Ferrell’s James begins his incarceration but there’s no sense of urgency.
To their credit, all involved throw themselves into their respective roles. After The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard marks the second consecutive film in which Hart plays the straight man in a comedy duo and it’s vastly preferable to when he’s dialled up to 11 in films such as Ride Along. The chemistry between Hart and Ferrell is solid throughout, and the pair are simply too talented not to draw laughs from audiences. The females of the piece fare far less well; Brie is reduced to little more than a sexpot, and as Darnell’s wife Edwina Findley fails to leave much of an impact with so little screen time.
A hit and miss comedy which hits both ends of the spectrum emphatically, Get Hard certainly tries hard but only half succeeds.