What do you do when you have two of the most bankable comedic talents in Hollywood?
That’s the question I’m sure a lot of people were asking themselves as they went about concocting Get Hard, the first collaboration between Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.
What sort of story gets the best out of both these guys? Each has their own wheelhouse – Ferrell the clueless, yet loveable idiot, and Hart, always a master of pragmatism, at his most entertaining when the situation is spiralling out of control. Likewise, just how scripted do you want to be? Hart and Ferrell are obviously great improvisers, but how do you stop this thing from turning into a sketch show? How much structure do you need to keep the whole enterprise from falling off the rails?
The answers to those questions might just be of the blowin’ in the wind variety, because the truth is when it’s all over Get Hard seems to suggest different things at different times, bringing its best in the moments you’d least expect.
James King (Will Ferrell) is a very wealthy, though rather sheltered, hedge fund manager just trying to make it in the cruel world of private islands and multi-acre estates. Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) works as a car detailer in the same building. He isn’t nearly as well off, and he’s desperate to shake together $30,000 to put a down payment on a house in a better school district for his daughter.
Now if you caught any sort of preview for this movie over the course of the last year I’m sure you don’t need me for this, but here goes anyway… James is convicted of mishandling funds and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison. Assuming Darnell has been to prison (he hasn’t), James offers to pay the unsuspecting family man to teach him how to survive in the big house.
In truth, that setup seems to take a lot longer than it should, and it’s particularly unfavourable to Hart. Ferrell gets to play a rich buffoon, which is not only right in his wheelhouse, but a pretty easy backstory to make funny. Hart’s character is much more grounded, which weighs him down with a lot of the rather unfunny exposition.
Still, it’s hard to say that the movie gets better when it leaves behind the compulsory setup and finally lets the guys loose.
Most of what’s here is typical of a Will Ferrell comedy. Jokes come fast and often. Scene premises are kept loose and disposable, to leave plenty of room for improvising. Get Hard hits you with volume, hoping that enough lands to make you feel like it was worth your while.
And Hart and Ferrell are two very funny people – heck, just watch their promotional appearances for this movie for evidence of that – so they do land their punches. They just don’t land enough of them. The prison yard stuff feels played out almost before it begins.
And the pity of it all is, Get Hard desperately tries to cling to that loose premise even when it starts to become clear that maybe it wants to be something else. Ironically, it’s the re-ignition of that plot that seemed oh so obligatory in the beginning that reveals that perhaps Get Hard should have been a buddy comedy all along.
It’s certainly an interesting and unexpected transition. James remembers that someone out there actually framed him and that maybe he should try to clear his name. From there on, the movie seems to hit the unpause button and noticeably pick up. James gets hilariously effective at some of his prison training, we get to better know Russell (played by the surprisingly funny T.I.), Darnell’s rough and tumble cousin, and his charming gang, and Hart and Ferrell demonstrate a level of chemistry that just wasn’t there before.
Is that enough to save this middling comedy? Not really. Get Hard doesn’t stray too far out of either Hart or Ferrell’s safe zone, nor is it all that consistent comedically. But I will say this for it – when it does hit, you’ll remember it. You just have to be willing to wade through the rest of the clutter to get there.
Final Score: 2.5/5