Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2015 Catch Up: GET HARD

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Gary Sanchez Productions. All Rights Reserved.

            For years now, I’ve been hearing that Kevin Hart is among the best, or is THE best, standup comedian working right now.  I have also heard that one of his major influences, Chris Rock, is way up there in the pantheon of comedy as well.  The key phrases here are “been hearing” and “have also heard” because, admittedly, I have not listened to any of their routines as my comedy playlist contains people like Eddie Izzard & the late George Carlin.  Anyhoo, I have heard from many, many people to focus on Chris Rock’s legendary standup sets & ignore his not-so-legendary movie career with such highlights as POOTIE TANG, BAD COMPANY and HEAD OF STATE.  If he’s not careful, Kevin Hart could follow down the same path with such gems as LITTLE FOCKERS, RIDE ALONG and a duo of 2015 duds: the reprehensible THE WEDDING RINGER (if that isn’t on “top” of my Worst of 2015 list, I’d be shocked) and the not-much-better GET HARD.
            Hedge fund manager James King (Ferrell) has the life of a king.  He has just been made partner at Barrow Funds.  He is engaged to the beautiful, young Alissa (Brie), the daughter of his boss Martin (Nelson).  But it all comes crashing down after he is sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin for fraud & embezzlement.  To prepare for life behind bars, King hires his go-to car washer Darnell Lewis (Hart) to help him “get hard”.  In return, Lewis hopes to move his wife & daughter out of the rough neighborhood they are stuck in.
            In the right hands, GET HARD could have been a commentary about race relations or income inequality, as the opening credits attempt to show us with the shots of people of various classes going to work from the white financial advisor in a convertible, to the Latina waitress waiting for a bus, to the homeless black man begging for money in the middle of the street.  In fact, the best moments of the movie come when James & Darnell visit Darnell’s drug-dealer cousin Russell & his associates.  It is here where writer/director Etan Cohen (TROPIC THUNDER & MEN IN BLACK 3) is somewhat successful in comparing the legitimate business of hedge funds to the illegal practice of drug dealing.  Listening to these gangbangers discuss the difference between Traditional & Roth IRAs elicited the biggest laugh out of me.  Ferrell’s interaction with the drug gang overall was mildly fascinating as was, to a lesser extent, a confrontation with some white supremacists.
            The majority of the movie, however, is not nearly this clever.  In fact, apart from the scenes I describe above, which constitute about 5 scenes or approximately 12 minutes of runtime, the final 85 minutes of the 100 minute movie mainly focuses on one juvenile theme: the fear of getting raped in prison.  That is the first thing discussed in King’s & Lewis’ negotiations.  Not the loss of freedom.  Not the general relationships between King, his future inmates & the guards.  Nope.  King is solely focused on his desire to (and pardon my French) “not become someone’s bitch.”  Quite a few scenes stand out for all the wrong reasons.  First, the two turn King’s mansion into a miniature prison, including transforming his wine cellar into a prison cell and creating shivs out of random household items that can fit in Ferrell’s rectum.  Also, in King’s tennis court turned prison yard, Hart role plays a possible interaction with Ferrell that includes Hart sometimes playing an effeminate black caricature.  There is a third scene at an outdoor gay restaurant that so homophobic that I hesitate to go any further without asking me to apologize to myself for typing such filth.
            Ferrell & Hart try their very best to make this misguided adventure work.  But the story originally conceived by co-writers and Key & Peele showrunners Jay Martel & Ian Roberts is so thin with its offensive premise and cardboard villains.  Director Cohen doesn’t have eye for the final confrontation including a ludicrous fight scene with the villain’s main thugs.  The supporting actors, especially Brie & Nelson, are wasted.  Although, rapper T.I. has better comedic chops as Russell than Tyrese Gibson does in the FURIOUS franchise.
            It is clear to me that Kevin Hart has all the talent in the world.  He tries in GET HARD.  The material is just not on his level.  What he needs is another supporting role in a Judd Apatow movie or in a stoner-esque comedy from Seth Rogen or Jason Segel.  Maybe next summer’s CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be the one that sends him into the stratosphere.  Until then, we have RIDE ALONG 2 on the horizon.  Grrrrrrrrrreeeeeaaaaat…