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"GET HARD"
(2015) (Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A multi-millionaire is sentenced to prison for white-collar crimes and hires who he thinks is a thug ex-con to teach him how to survive behind bars.
PLOT:
James King (WILL FERRELL) is a multi-millionaire investor with a big house, fancy cars, and a beautiful fiancée, Alissa (ALISON BRIE). He is arrested and convicted of fraud, embezzlement, and other white-collar crimes and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The judge gives him 30 days to get his affairs in order, so James hires an African-American man named Darnell (KEVIN HART), who he thinks is an ex-con, to teach him how to survive in jail. Darnell, though, is a squeaky-clean family man with a wife, Rita (EDWINA FINDLEY DICKERSON), and a 10-year-old daughter, Makayla (ARIANA NEAL). He dreams of getting his little girl into a better school district and himself and his wife into a nicer house, so he agrees to "train" James in the thug life in return for the $30,000 down payment he needs for a home in a better zip code.

Darnell soon learns he's in over his head and may end up getting James killed behind bars. So, he recruits his gangster cousin, Russell (hip-hop artist T.I.) to offer James gang protection once he gets to San Quentin. Russell initially bristles at the suggestion until James shows him and his gang how they can turn their drug money into big-time legitimate profits by investing in Wall Street.

Darnell, meanwhile, starts to like James more and more and begins to suspect that he is indeed telling the truth that he is an innocent man. With just a little bit of digging, the two learn that James' boss, Martin (CRAIG T. NELSON), and crooked attorney, Peter (GREG GERMANN), have set him up to take the fall for a bad investment scheme gone wrong.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
In these increasingly politically correct times, it's getting harder and harder to tell what makes for a funny comedy. I've written in past reviews that if a comedy made me laugh, no matter how inane or poorly constructed it is, I'll generally give it a positive review because it did its basic job. Well, on that level, "Get Hard" certainly make me laugh a good two dozen times throughout its running time. And about a half-dozen of those laughs were good, long, hearty ones where you miss the next line of dialogue or two (the profanity counts in this full content review are definitely approximations this time, dear readers).

But a LOT of the humor in "Get Hard" revolves around two things -- racial stereotypes and straight males' fear and disgust of homosexual sex -- that really chaps people these days. So, if you have a low threshold for that kind of humor, this isn't the flick for you. The film also mines some good, solid laughs out of such skewer-worthy topics as income disparity and white people trying to appropriate black culture. But if you're sitting in the theater with your arms folded and judging each joke by how intelligently and cleverly it's hitting the mark -- "Oh, I love how the writers took the stereotype and turned it around" or "Ugh! That's a total racial stereotype that has no business offending my eyes and ears!" -- you're not fully engaging with the film. You're like one of those Olympics judges holding up number scores for the ice skaters and divers.

Will Ferrell stars as James King, a millionaire banker who is arrested and convicted of fraud, embezzlement, and other white collar crimes. The judge gives him 30 days to get his affairs in order before spending the next 10 years in San Quentin. Afraid that he won't last in prison, he hires the only African-American man he knows -- Darnell (Kevin Hart), the guy who operates the garage franchise that washes his car -- to teach him how to "get hard" so he can avoid all the horrible things he has seen on HBO's "Oz."

The joke is, the straight-laced, Harvard-educated James is going off a total stereotype. Darnell is a squeaky-clean family man with a wife and daughter, who is struggling to scrape together enough for a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood and school district. Darnell decides to masquerade as a street thug gang banger for $30,000. Comically, he starts by calling his wife the "b" word, and she promptly slaps him silly. James, though, is ignorant. So, anything James tells him to do to get ready for prison, he does -- from turning his mansion into a facsimile of the prison to picking fights with really tough dudes in the local public park.

I wish the film had spent more time on Darnell's outlandishly ill-conceived tutelage. More could definitely have been done by James' estate grounds being transformed into the prison yard and his wine cellar being turned into a cell where James is attacked from all sides. But the film makes a couple of fairly big missteps, most notably taking James to a restaurant frequented by homosexual men and having James proposition one of them to allow him to practice oral sex in the hopes that he will get good enough at the act so that he won't be violated otherwise behind bars. It's a ... uh ... gag that I don't think any comic performer alive or dead could pull off and should have been deleted out of the picture.

In addition, the film loses faith that there was more comedy gold to be mined from Darnell's teachings, and instead sends him and James to the Crenshaw neighborhood of Southern California so that Darnell's gang-leader cousin Russell (hip-hop artist T.I.) can take over his instruction. He does so only after James shows him and the other gang members how to turn their cocaine money into legitimate millions investing in the stock market. It's a funny idea, but ultimately the film's core is the Ferrell-Hart pairing so the South Central stuff feels more like screenplay padding than an organic part of the story. Although there is one great line late in the film when James likens Russell's charisma and leadership skills to a young Ronald Reagan.

If you put this movie on a set of scales, I think the laughs do outweigh the non-laughs. It's not one of Will Ferrell's best or funniest movies. It's probably not nearly as entertaining past the first couple of opening weekends at the box office when you'll be seeing it with large crowds eager to laugh. But he and Hart do have chemistry, and seeing Craig T. Nelson as a true white collar crook who has set up Ferrell's James brings me back to that time in the '80s when the cuddly TV dad was a scumbag in such flicks as "Action Jackson." This may seem like a soft recommend, but I do give "Get Hard" a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed March 24, 2015 / Posted March 27, 2015


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