Get Hard (Etan Cohen, 2015)
So, all right, I chuckled, and once or twice I laughed out loud. In fact, I emerged from the theater feeling as if what I had just seen had surpassed my low expectations. Why low expectations? Well, for starters, there was a certain general critical consensus against the film. And then, on top of that, I am no particular Will Ferrell fan, as I am one of the few people in my circle of friends who did not like Anchorman (though I loved Elf and Stranger Than Fiction, which are admittedly atypical of his usual vulgar output). My recent positive experience with Kevin Hart in The Wedding Ringer led me to hope that he, indeed, might be funny, and what true laughs came my way here were courtesy of him. But over the few days since I saw the film, the jokes have faded, and all that remains is the bitter taste of stale stereotypes mined for lowbrow humor. Helmed, in his feature directorial debut, by screenwriter Etan Cohen (Men in Black 3), the movie is mostly a clumsy attempt to make mirth out of homophobia and racism. While it opens with the promise of a modern take on the 1983 comedic classic Trading Places – which featured some truly biting racial and social satire – Get Hard rapidly devolves into nothing more than a sorry excuse to trot out the stereotypes it purports to subvert.
Ferrell plays James, a corporate hedge-fund guy, who is tried and convicted of financial impropriety and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in San Quentin (the judge decides to make an example of him). Terrified that he’ll die in prison – correction, that he’ll be raped and forced to give blow jobs in prison – James hires Darnell, the only African-American man he knows, to make him “hard” enough to survive jail time. And so the homoerotic jokes begin – “you make me so hard,” etc., along with every other bad pun you can imagine – along with the racial ones. James’s initial mistake with Darnell (who has never been to prison, but is in fact a happily married middle-class small-business owner) opens the door for a serious (or seriously funny) examination of white assumptions about people of color. But then, when every other non-white character – Latino landscapers and maids, African-American gangbangers – conforms to the very assumptions lampooned in the opening, that satirical door is slammed shut. So much for that. And let’s not even get started on the heterosexual fear of gay sex . . . Go if you must, but expect very little.