Lawrence Toppman

Movie review: The most offensive thing about ‘Get Hard’ is its unoriginality

Darnell (Kevin Hart, top) hires out to teach James (Will Ferrell) how to survive in prison in “Get Hard.”
Darnell (Kevin Hart, top) hires out to teach James (Will Ferrell) how to survive in prison in “Get Hard.” WARNER BROS. PICTURES

I saw my favorite one-sentence review of a movie years ago, so I’m stealing it and using it here: “Everyone does what they do.”

Will Ferrell plays James, the white, clueless 1-percenter whose boss frames him for embezzlement – this is not a spoiler if you’ve graduated from kindergarten – and gets a 10-year sentence in a maximum security prison.

Kevin Hart plays Darnell, the black entrepreneur trying to raise $30,000 for a down payment that would move his family into a decent house. He pretends to be a hardened con who can teach James how to survive in the pen for that amount of cash.

The rest consists of training to toughen James up, would-be alliances with black gangsters or Aryan racists to give James a jailhouse family, and scenes where the two pals bail each other out of trouble. The best moment comes when Darnell, trying to teach James about the prison yard, darts back and forth (physically and verbally) as a black hard case, an equally tough Latino and a swishy gay inmate.

The filmmakers seem to think they’re saying something satiric or thoughtful about the economic divide in this country or the way we categorize each other. They’re not, but the profane barrage of offensive jokes often builds strong momentum.

“Get Hard” has been called racist, and it narrowly escapes that label (I think) by being an equal opportunity offender. Women are stacked, brainless buffoons, whites divide into moronic skinheads and effetely crooked rich people, and blacks have it hardest here: Most of the men want to cheat the law and/or take life, while the booty-endowed women shake appealing keisters in our faces.

Director Etan Cohen may think he’s mocking people who believe these stereotypes are real. He might have been right, if anyone in the film were an individual we hadn’t seen many times before.

In fact, this plays like a dirtier riff on “The Wedding Ringer,” which came out too recently for that to be so. In that one, Hart played a smart black entrepreneur who aligns himself with a dumb, puffy white guy, smartens him up about his designing woman and makes an unlikely friend in the process. Hart does this as well as anyone around. Now let’s see him stop.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

REVIEW

‘Get Hard’

A white (and white-collar) criminal assigned to a maximum security prison hires a black man – whom he believes to be an ex-inmate – to teach him how to survive in this comedy.

B- STARS: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie.

DIRECTOR: Etan Cohen.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes.

RATING: R (pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material).

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