* 1/2 out of ****
Will Ferrell has starred in a couple of excellent comedies - Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and The Other Guys. While none of these would qualify as character studies, they all supply Ferrell with an actual character to play (aided by the actor’s improvisational skills). But in the new comedy Get Hard, Ferrell’s character seems to be built around one trait and one trait only: he doesn’t want to be raped in prison.
That may seem like an odd way to open a movie review, but the fact is Get Hard likely devotes more screen time than any other film in history to jokes about how much people are raped in prison. The film also takes great pains to state (again and again and again) that its main character really, really doesn’t want that to happen to him. And no, most of the jokes aren’t funny (the main exception being a bit when Ferrell’s character practices trash talking). Get Hard doesn’t feel daring or envelope-pushing; it just feels like a flailing film without any clever ideas.
Ferrell plays James King, a rising hedge fund millionaire who is arrested for white collar crimes.The judge makes an example out of him and sentences him to 10 years in San Quentin. Desperate for help, he asks the African-American man who washes his car (Kevin Hart) to teach him how to be tough. Ferrell’s oblivious racist assumes Hart’s character has been to prison, but he hasn’t. So, the wimpy family man has to pretend to be a tough guy so he can teach another wimp to pretend to be a tough guy in prison.
There’s some potential in that premise, but much of it is squandered in repetitive variations of the aforementioned rape jokes and queasy homophobia. There’s a few scattered laughs, and New Orleanians will enjoy playing spot the local scenery (New Orleans doubles for South Central Los Angeles here). But other than that, Get Hard doesn’t have much to offer.