I’m pretty snobby when it comes to movies. Shocking, isn’t it, coming from a film school student and a movie reviewer? The problem is that I hold ALL movies to the same unfairly high standards: horror to “The Babadook,” action to “The Raid: Redemption,” comedies to “Pineapple Express,” sci-fi to “Blade Runner,” etc. This has hindered me in appreciating a lot of movies for their own merits; most recently, my more casual moviegoing friends vowed never to go to AMC Loews with me ever again after I bashed “Kingsman: The Secret Service” for trying too hard to be both a Bond film and a light-hearted comedy. (In my defense, this is a mostly accurate observation, but I was unable to appreciate the modern themes and fast pacing that appealed to my demographic.) What I’m trying to say is that I’m definitely not the kind of guy that watches bad movies for fun.
Coupled with the initial critic reactions to “Get Hard,” I was gleefully rubbing my hands in anticipation of writing another “50 Shades of Grey” level slam review. I knew with confidence that the trailer spoiled all of the best jokes and the entire plot. It looked like a dish that no one should order in the 21st century: a steaming hot plate of racism and homophobia with a sprinkle of misogyny, served with a side of unoriginal writing and a tall glass of immaturity.
And all of this is true…which is why I was surprised to realize, about an hour into the movie, that I was thoroughly enjoying it. I kept waiting for the movie to drop a particularly tasteless line given the particularly slippery ground it was treading, but it never did. Earlier on, I was laughing along occasionally, awkwardly, and halfheartedly; by the end, I was roaring along as consistently, loudly, and enthusiastically as the rest of the full theater. You just can’t hold it together when Kevin Hart is perfectly mimicking a black gang member, a Mexican gang member, and a flamboyant dude – all in jail, and all at the same time.
Despite the way it looks, “Get Hard” is executed in such a way that, at its core, it’s very hard to call it morally problematic. Will Ferrell plays James King, an extremely rich stockbroker who appears to flaunt his wealth and appropriates cultures – a young liberal’s worst nightmare. Yet all of his actions are guided by naiveté, not hate (A good example is when he dresses “gangsta” to visit the hood – it’s just too ridiculous). If anything, the plot is driven by his trophy wife (Alison Brie), his “mentor” (Kevin Hart), and his father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) manipulating him for his money. “Get Hard” is most certainly not a sob story, and there’s a montage of Will crying while getting pampered in his mansion to drive that point home, but he’s just a math nerd that’s getting played, not a symbolic defense for the 1%.
Unfortunately, not all of the humor can be written off as “ultimately well-intentioned.” The blatant homophobia is definitely an issue because it drives Ferrell’s King into doing increasingly stranger things to avoid “getting a mouthful of sack.” Furthermore, there’s a scene where Kevin decides that Will isn’t hard enough (ha, ha) to fight off the other inmates at San Quentin, so instead takes him to a gay café and encourages him to practice giving oral sex. Yet even during this scene I couldn’t help laughing because while Will is in the bathroom with a guy, Kevin politely turns down the advances of a very eager man and creates a lasting (but awkward) friendship with him.
I’m not dismissing my morals for comedy. There is no doubt that “Get Hard” tip toes on very thin ice, and it does crack during many parts. But I respect Etan Cohen’s balls for sticking to it, and I take my hat off to him for creating my very first guilty pleasure of 2015 at the very least.
Review by William Park
“Get Hard” hits theaters nationwide today.
[Be sure to check out my interview with “Get Hard” stars, Kevin Hart & Will Ferrell]