Angry people are already casting complaints about the new comedy Get Hard. The only group that should be unabashedly offended by Get Hard, however, is the rich … like Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
Oh wait, the duo starred in and co-produced the new comedy, respectively.
Get Hard drew plenty of outrage earlier this month during an SXSW screening, over its portrayal of black and gay characters and themes. That part of Get Hard is complicated, no doubt.
What’s unquestionable is how the comedy targets the One Percent. Consider it an unofficial offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Except Get Hard is funny on purpose.
Will Ferrell stars as James King, an investment banker about to do serious jail time for a crime he didn’t commit. He fears he won’t last a week in prison. soft, and not just around his midsection. Yes, Ferrell displays his doughy frame yet again for comic effect, in the film’s first few minutes.
So when James sees Darnell (Kevin Hart), the black man who regularly cleans his car, James offers him a princely sum for him to get him prison-“hard.”
Why Darnell? Well, because he’s black and appears to work at a blue-collar job, so he must have spent some time in jail. Does it matter that Darnell owns the car wash company in question and is a decent family man?
Well, the racial joke is on James for making such a racist assumption. Right?
The film’s trailer tells you more or less what happens next. It’s a long teacher/student segment where Darnell summons everything he thinks he knows about prison while James learns the ropes … slowly.
And, more often than not, the two click in very funny ways. Hart is the unofficial straight man here, a task that suits his comic style nicely.
Get Hard begins by showing the posh life James enjoys, including the affections of a fiancé (Alison Brie) who revels in his wealth.
“How much money you gonna make?” she barks at him during fiscal foreplay. “Enough money to choke a baby,” he answers. Later, she says, “There’s winners, and there’s losers. That’s what drives this country.”
We see images of James’ opulent lifestyle juxtaposed to day laborers waiting for a gig and other signs of economic disparity. Darnell’s daughter goes to a dangerous school where students must pass through metal detectors before learning the Three Rs. All the while, James sings along to a pop song’s chorus, “I Don’t Care,” while the camera closes in on the 99 percenters.
James’s future father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson), recalls his “humble” roots with James early in the film.
“I remember when I asked my father for that $8 million dollar loan,” he says, like the Monopoly icon with the monocle and stiff suit.
“You really did it all on your own,” King says in response, ignoring the fact that many millionaires really did make their money on their own. Such as Ferrell and McKay.
How many critics, by the way, have complained about his element of the story?
What’s worse, though, is that these moments don’t move the story, or the characters, forward. We’re asked to sympathize with James early on, and ultimately to hope that Darnell can get the money he needs to expand his car-wash empire—and get rich.
Should we hate him then, but not now?
At least Get Hard largely gets the class-warfare rhetoric out of the way early, and that’s a very good thing because it leaves plenty of time for laughter. A few jokes are even sublime, as when Darnell gives James “permission” to use the N-word around him.
Darnell instinctively slaps him all the same.
The comedy does show some stereotypical black gangbangers, and yet before long they’re revealing a hearty sense of wealth management and brotherhood. The characters also quickly get in line with the movie’s economic talking points.
“Wall Street … those guys are the real criminals,” say one gang member.
The other controversial note in Get Hard involves prison rape. It’s the film’s comic through-line—James doesn’t want to endure an endless string of forced gay sex. That inspired some critics to dub the film “homophobic.” Audiences will make up their own minds on whether a straight man preferring to avoid years of forced anal rape is anti-gay.
The film does feature Darnell’s platonic bond with an openly gay character, a cute storyline that may have been added to undercut anti-gay accusations.
Get Hard runs a bit too long and fails to commit to its core characters. James King starts out as a jerk, but before long he’s morphed into another lovable Will Ferrell man-child.
It’s still packed with big laughs, however, and the leads’ comic chemistry is undeniable. Once upon a time that was enough to make a comic blockbuster. We’ll see if that holds true today.