Somewhere amid the unbearable stereotypes that choke this sophomoric comedy is a potent blue-collar revenge fantasy about an arrogant white-collar crook getting his just comeuppance. This timely comic scenario reveals a kinship to the satiric humanism of David Wain’s films, which seek to level the societal playing field by creating super-diegetic spaces for their miscreant characters (the L.A.R.P. dominion in Role Models, the hippie commune in Wanderlust), and the misanthropic tragicomedies of Judd Apatow, particularly the adult anti-fables of This Is 40 and Funny People. They mask deeply humanist themes with bawdy humor and juvenilia—a defense mechanism for the insecure characters and, by extension, the filmmakers themselves. But Get Hard’s insights into such matters as our country’s financial corruption or the prison-industrial complex lack for the nuance of those films, sacrificing satire strictly for a pandering litany of racist and homophobic caricatures.
The film’s sitcom-level setup is designed for prolonged comedic sequences rather than plausible story development, the ideal structure for director Etan Cohen’s casual, improv-heavy approach. James King (Will Ferrell) is a millionaire hedge-fund manager sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin for fraud and embezzlement. Having read the statistic that every one in three African-American men has done time, he assumes his squeaky-clean car-washer, Darnell (Kevin Hart), can ready him for life behind bars; in exchange, James offers Darnell $30,000, enough money to get him and his family out of their crime-ridden neighborhood. Zaniness ensues in an endless parade of crude, lazily conceived scenarios. Much more than a tarnished reputation, James fears prison because of the unwanted sexual advances, something the film brings up ad nauseam, compelling Darnell to proclaim that he’s probably just “gonna have to suck a dick.” And to prepare, James picks up a stranger and unsuccessfully attempts to give him head in a public restroom. Ferrell may be comfortably in his wheelhouse here, resting his face next to a semi-erect penis and sobbing like a child who doesn’t want to eat his vegetables, but it’s impossible to shake that his comic brio is in service of a 100-minute gay-panic attack.
Hart’s lyrically wired persona might seem at odds with Ferrell’s ever-panicked shtick. But their interactions exude an almost symphonic comic harmony reminiscent of the Three Stooges, as in a scene that plays off their disparate physical statures, with Ferrell lifting Hart and using his body like a piece of gym equipment. The filmmakers may stand out of their way, but they also refuse to modulate the story’s racial humor with any sense of subversion. Get Hard only pretends to critique white appropriation of black culture. In one scene, James denies that he’s doing such pilfering, the joke being that he’s doing exactly that by dressing up like Lil Wayne in order to meet with Darnell’s gangbanging cousin, Russell (Clifford “T.I.” Harris). By the time he’s successfully entrenched himself in the gang’s lifestyle, imbibing malt liquor and talking pistol-branding Instagram selfies, it becomes clear that the film is less interested in complicating white-black racial encounters than it is in reveling in the most egregious stereotypes that films such as this are often to blame for perpetuating in the first place.