Ferrell, Hart Languish In Criminally Unfunny "Get Hard"

Etan Cohen’s “Get Hard” fancies itself a comedy in the same way a Chihuahua might fancy itself a human, with two main differences – Chihuahuas are adorable and they generally don’t try to pass sexual assault off as a punchline.

The project sees writer and first-time director Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”) wield comedy titans Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart like spatulas in a knife fight, confusing awkward situations and unwanted social commentary for jokes, when it is, in fact, a void of actual joke construction. The film never bothers to set up or pay off anything, content to let its stars wade in a veritable kiddie pool of bad taste, hoping one of them will do or say something funny. For most of the pic’s interminable 100-minute running time, they don’t.

The plot is a deformed composite of every buddy comedy ever made, sliced and diced to the point of total anonymity. The characters aren’t buddies and the premise isn’t comedic.

The usually hilarious Ferrell plays James, a white-collar blowhard who treats the rest of the world like a giant urinal cake, while Hart co-stars as Darnell, the ambitious owner of a struggling car wash business. When James is convicted of securities fraud and embezzlement, he reaches out to the one black person he knows – Darnell – to toughen him up for a lengthy prison sentence.

James’ incorrect, bigoted assumption that his acquaintance has been to prison isn’t enough to stop Darnell, who’s so hard up for cash that he accepts immediately. From there the film is less a film than a compilation of scenes, loosely strung together on a single hook – that James really, really doesn’t want to be raped.

If there is indeed humor in everything, scaling sexual assault for laughs demands that said laughs be found, lest those involved make exceptional asses of themselves. Considering the talent on hand, the result is startling in its ineptitude.

If the idea of seeing a retching Will Ferrell attempt fellatio in a bathroom stall isn’t inherently offensive, it gets there on sheer unfunniness. The same goes for Hart’s attempts to initiate Ferrell into a black street gang. We’re supposed to be appalled by James’ assumption that Darnell is a criminal, but not bat an eye when the latter happens to have a violent drug dealer (rapper T.I.) for a cousin.

Most puzzling of all is the lack of chemistry between stars. As two stitches they’re hopelessly mismatched – neither is made for playing things straight – but worse yet, they don’t seem remotely energized to be working together. If anything, Ferrell appears distracted by sharing center stage and Hart seems uncharacteristically introverted.

Alison Brie (“Community”) and Craig T. Nelson (“The Incredibles”) go to waste as James’ fiancée and future father-in-law, respectively, their roles smothered by the sheer unpleasantness of Ferrell’s character. The actor’s innate lovability has always been his secret weapon in a career of tragically cocksure, arrogant performances, but it’s a trait that’s absent here – until an inevitable late game redemption that’s entirely unearned.

Perhaps most telling is that “Get Hard” ends with Ferrell riffing on its title. In the pantheon of grand finales, it’s a couple of soggy bottle rockets that no one bothered to light, as insignificant as everything that preceded it. Unless the project is part of some elaborate, bizarre placebo test intended to weed out people who don’t understand comedy, it’s a resounding failure whose offensiveness – real or imagined – is amplified tenfold by its lazy, tossed-off attempts at humor.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: March 27, 2015
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Etan Cohen
Screenwriters: Etan Cohen, Jay Martel, Ian Roberts
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Alison Brie
MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material)