Get Hard **
One Liner Review:
Pretty much the usual thing for a Will Ferrell movie, this one has an interesting premise, but doesn’t get very far with it before it falls into a formulaic film.
Pretty similar to some of the more recent Will Ferrell films (The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home,) this is a movie where Ferrell plays a wimp who has to get trained into changing his personality. This time it’s not Mark Wahlberg, but Kevin Hart, doing the training. The initial storyline about Ferrell’s character, James, being sentenced to prison time, and hiring Darnell (Hart,) to train him, is pretty good. There are definitely a number of laughs here. But the storyline and characters are all paint by number and the kind of thing we’ve seen again and again. This is not one of Ferrell’s more creative movies.
Get Hard is a very average Will Ferrell movie. What that means is, there are definitely funny parts, and the premise is even pretty good too. But the story is completely predictable and for as many of the jokes work, there are a whole bunch that really don’t work as well. The movie is about James, (Will Ferrell,) a wealthy, wimpy guy who is being accused of fraud and financial embezzlement, and is being shipped off to prison. He has thirty days before he heading to a cell. During that time, he enlists the man who works in his parking garage, Darnell (Kevin Hart,) to teach him and prepare him for prison.
Now, this might not sound familiar, because on the surface level, it isn’t. There haven’t been too many comedies that touched on the financial crisis, and Bernie Madoff types getting in trouble. There have been plenty of dramas that tackled that (Too Big To Fail, Margin Call, The Big Short,) and even black comedies (Blue Jasmine,) but as far as flat out comedies go, there’s this and there’s The Other Guys, which also starred Ferrell. But the connections to The Other Guys doesn’t end there. You see in that movie, Ferrell also played a weak and wimpy character who got beat into shape by his partner, (Mark Wahlberg.) In that film, at one point we saw a flashback to a time when Ferrell was a pimp, named Gator, living on the edge. He dressed like a flashy, jewelry-clad, black man, acted that way, and made quite an impression. Well, it appears that Get Hard said, what if we use that character, Gator (or something very much like him,) for more than just a flashback? What if we make this movie about turning Ferrell’s wimpy guy character into that pimp character? The point is that everything in Get Hard seems like we’ve seen it before, and we have, one way or another.
There are at least four different ending parts that can all be predicted from very early on in the movie. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that two of them involve James, one involves Darnell, and one involves James’ fiancé, Alissa, played by Community’s Alison Brie. Just think about where each of these characters begins, at the start of this movie, and how they might be different, by the ending. Predictable plot aside, many of the jokes work, and that’s really what counts in a movie like this. The film starts with James crying loudly in a closeup shot of his face, and even that is kind of funny. From there we see him waking up in bed, at a luxurious mansion, and then doing stretches by his window. James is completely naked, and there’s a gardner right outside the window, who has to witness this. A few moments later, James and Alissa are having sex and James gets his butt pressed up against the window. Again, we see the gardener there (does this gardener ever move?) Now, instead of repeating the same joke, what would have been much funnier would have been if the gardener was trying to get a peak at Alissa. Like if James’ butt was in the way, and the gardener kept hoping James would move, only he never did. Only that doesn’t happen.
I like how the movie begins with what seems like a typical day in James’ life. We start out with him waking up and getting ready for work and then move onto him at the office. This shows us how everyone wants to be his friend and he’s a big shot out there, yet he doesn’t really have time for anyone. James goes up to his private office to see an older man, also with that big shot persona, who tells him that James just made him a lot of money. At this point, we can easily predict that this man is either James’ boss, or his fiancé’s father, or both. It’s both. We move from here into a surprise engagement party for the happy couple with John Meyer showing up and singing a song. James grabs his own guitar and joins in, and Meyer’s reactions to this guy, who thinks he’s so good and can’t just watch somebody else be good at something, are pretty funny.
But then a surprise happens at the party. Men from the FBI show up and they arrest James. He insists that he’s innocent, even when his lawyer advises him to take a plea and settle for less time. James refuses. That gets him sentenced and locked up. And he has thirty days to prepare. There was one really funny scene, before any of this happened, with Darnell, in the parking garage. James got into his car, and Darnell approached the window with the keys. At that point James started screaming for help, telling Darnell to take whatever he wanted, and honking his horn. He couldn’t hear Darnell saying that he just had the man’s keys. When James is sentenced to time in prison, he sees Darnell again, and asks the man to train him. Darnell needs thirty thousand dollars to open up his own car business. He tried to get it from James earlier on in the movie, as a load or sponsorship. He tried to go to the bank without that money and get a loan. None of it worked. Now, with James needing someone to train him desperately, he agrees to pay Darnell the thirty thousand in order to work with him and get him ready.
The funny thing here is that Darnell is not a thug. He has never been to prison. He’s a hard working black man with a family and a job. Darnell speaks to his wife about that, who questions why he is lying and pretending to be something he’s not. All Darnell talks about is the money that he needs to open up his car business. What he also should have spoken about is the principle, that this man assumes he went to prison just because he is black. That element could have been addressed more, and gone more towards seeing James’ character change during the course of the movie, realizing that not all black people have been in prison. Still, Darnell’s daughter is pretty funny. At one point Darnell tells James the story of Boyz N The Hood, claiming that it is his own story of how he went to prison, and the daughter knows exactly what her father was doing. The movie, however, is pretty lazy to just serve up the Boyz N The Hood story in this way, instead of coming up with their own story. If Darnell had made up a story, it could have been ridiculous and unbelievable, and Darnell could have sold it with details. Something like we get in the movie Spy, every time Jason Statham tells a story about the kinds of things he has been through and taken on. Imagine if he had just recanted the storyline of a movie we are all familiar with, instead of going on his own riffs. And the punchline would be that the character he was talking to didn’t know it was a movie. Not very funny.
Darnell goes over to James’ mansion and begins training him. Now here’s where the movie gets to be fun. Because they have all kinds of resources at their disposal, as well as a full staff of maids and gardeners, they really get creative with how the turn the mansion into a prison. They design all kinds of rooms to look different and Darnell teaches James a little bit each day. I love the move where he learns to hide something in a place that is especially uncomfortable. The tennis courts become a courtyard, complete with barbed wire all around it. At one point, James even starts bench pressing and using Darnell as his weights. At another, Darnell impersonates all different people who James might run into in prison. While the different accents and voices he uses might be annoying, you gotta give Kevin Hart credit for the effort he is making here. It goes a long way.
After a while, Darnell feels like he has trained James enough on his own, and now brings him over to meet his cousin. This cousin is a drug dealer who actually has been in prison. It takes a while for the black gang that surrounds this cousin, in his house, to warm up to James, but once he starts helping them with the stock market, everything works out. This is where James becomes that pimp-like character, just like he played in The Other Guys. But this movie takes it even further. Instead of just having him try out the black gang, Darnell and James also go to see a white gang. These guys are a bunch of Nazis and skinheads, hanging out at a bar. They want to torture James. Darnell shows up with a flamethrower to help his friend out, and they make a run for it. This movie is really throwing everything they can think of at the screen, and luckily, that strategy actually works.
Of course, as we get further into the plot, we get the usual cliches of the bad guys trying to figure out who this Darnell is that James has been spending so much time with. Of course they think he is an undercover detective or something. And of course there’s the shady hitman who works for the higher ups, and wears sunglasses everywhere. It’s a shame that this movie had to fall into predictable territory, because with a little more ambition to be it’s own thing, this could have been a great film. I love that the movie went for an R rating and didn’t shy away from being able to do whatever they wanted, in the interest of getting a laugh. An example comes when Darnell brings James to the park and shows him a bunch of tough guy muscle men working out. Darnell tells James to go pick a fight with them, and he does, saying things like, “You picked the wrong day to come to the park.” He then starts saying things about the guy’s mothers, using that R rating. The result is a lot of fun.
Still, the movie does feel way too familiar. For Will Ferrell, finding creative material hasn’t been easy. In fact, other than Stranger Than Fiction, his forray into black comedy, Ferrell hasn’t really delved into the smartest of ideas. He has definitely had some great films, from Old School to Elf to Anchorman, but then look at how Anchorman spawns out a sequel that isn’t half as funny as the original film, and you can see why Old School and Elf don’t have sequels of their own. Ferrell went through a time period where he was making one sports movie after another, from Taladega Nights (Nascar racing,) to Semi-Pro (basketball,) to Ice Skating, (Blades of Glory.) Every once in a while he does find a movie that is unique and interesting (Step Brothers,) but more often than not it’s settling in for the usual cliche about how his character is a wimp and is competing against or being trained by a guy who is much tougher and can’t stand him. Whether it’s The Other Guys, this film, Get Hard, or the new Ferrell-Wahlberg movie, Daddy’s Home, this actor loves to fall into lazy patterns of making the same kind of film over and over again. He’a clearly got talent, but just isn’t the best at choosing roles and scripts. Hopefully we get more movies like Elf and Stranger Than Fiction in the future, and less where Ferrell plays the usual wimp.