The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Get Hard

Taboo humor is tricky. Done right, it leads to big-time hilarity. Done wrong, it can teeter over into being offensive. Get Hard tries to mine laughs from the taboo subject of prison rape, and early reactions have found some people dubbing it homophobic. On top of that, the movie simultaneously attempts to satirize racial stereotypes. Either of those things would be enough to create a thin line to walk; trying to juggle both is a virtual recipe for disaster. Get Hard isn't quite that bad, but it's certainly not as funny or wise as it could have been.

Will Ferrell plays James King, a millionaire businessman who lives in a big house, has a hot fiancee, Alissa (Alison Brie), and has just been named partner in the company his boss/her father (Craig T. Nelson) runs. James is one of those people who has so much money that he's lost touch with the real world. He mistreats his racially diverse housekeeping staff and has no concept of what it's like to struggle economically. (“This house is a shithole!” he proclaims of his sprawling mansion.) Things get tough for James when he's charged with embezzlement and sentenced to a lengthy prison term in San Quentin. Fearful of being made someone's “bitch,” he hires car wash operator Darnell (Kevin Hart) to teach him how to survive behind bars. Darnell has never been to prison; James just assumes he has because he's black.

That's a potentially funny idea right there. In a day and age when bigots are continually referring to African-American men as “thugs,” there's great opportunity to find humor in examining nonsensical racial prejudices. Get Hard doesn't intend to perpetuate stereotypes, but it never does a whole lot to find new humor in them, either. The movie's idea of a joke is to have James dress up in hip-hop clothing and awkwardly speak in street slang to show that he's “gangsta.” We've seen that sort of thing used time and again in comedies. A more inventive idea would have been to really explore the reasons why James makes such a lazy assumption about Darnell – and how Darnell, who is a self-reliant businessman, feels about it.

Oddly, Darnell's only concern is getting the $30,000 James agrees to pay him. He seems pretty willing to excuse away any racism because of that. The character is even willing to spread the stereotype. Here's a black man teaching a white man how to make “mad dog face” and intimidate people. How does he feel about feeding into the very worst impressions of his own race? We're never told.

Get Hard doesn't score much better on the other count. Darnell's training is all intended to help James avoid getting sexually assaulted in jail. Scene after scene revolves around this idea. The film feels like a 100-minute prison rape joke. I don't think the story goes too far; if anything, it doesn't go far enough. When Darnell's attempts to toughen James up don't work, he decides the only other recourse is to teach him how to perform oral sex. With this in mind, he has James pick up a gay man and take the guy into a restroom to service him. Faced with another man's penis, James gags and freaks out, failing to perform the task.

Is that homophobic? Not necessarily. The joke is supposed to be about James having to accept the harsh reality of getting overpowered and made subservient by a more hardened prisoner who only cares about getting his rocks off. But because the tone of the scene never goes beyond Eww, a penis! Yuck!, it ends up seeming insensitive. This sequence, and several others just like it, stop short of saying anything comedically substantive, so they leave you feeling uncomfortable. Again, I don't think the intention was to be insulting toward people who have consensual gay sex, but the script inadvertently lumps all forms of same-sex intimacy together.

There is another thing that might have significantly helped Get Hard, and that would be to make James unlikeable. We learn very early on that he's been set up and didn't really do anything illegal. His innocence robs the movie of its most crucial sting. James operates toward people of different races and sexual orientation more out of naivety than malice. It seems to me that the big joke of Get Hard should be an elitist, prejudiced white collar criminal realizing that he's going to get a literal version of the screwing he's given to so many others. That yields real desperation, which can be made quite funny. Because we know that his hands are clean, the idea of James being tormented in prison hits a note of sadness rather than comeuppance.

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are incredibly funny guys. They have strong chemistry together. Even though so much about Get Hard is ill-conceived and misguided, the two leads do manage to eke out some decent chuckles. (A scene where Darnell lies to James about a tragedy that led to his faux prison sentence is a fine example of what the entire movie should have been.) Alison Brie also earns laughs in her few scenes, playing a manipulative gold-digger who isn't afraid to use her physical attributes to get what she wants.

Directed by Etan Cohen, Get Hard clearly intends to be edgy and to make audience members question their own prejudices in regard to race and sexuality. To succeed in such a goal, a comedy has to be willing to push the limits as far as possible; doing anything less only dooms it to trafficking in the same cliches it's supposedly disassembling. Get Hard has moments where you can see the intention ringing through. But there aren't enough of them, and the ones that are here aren't funny enough to compensate for the scarcity.

( out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Get Hard
Own “Get Hard” on Blu-ray Combo Pack on June 30th or own it now on Digital HD!

Get Hard hits DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital HD on June 30. The Blu-Ray comes with the theatrical cut, plus an unrated cut that runs eight minutes longer. The additions are mostly just extensions to already-existing scenes; however, they do offer the opportunity to see more of these two comic giants working together.

Other bonus features are quite copious. “Put Your Lips Together and Blow” is a montage of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage from a scene in which Ferrell's character unsuccessfully tries to give a gay man oral sex in a restroom stall. As you would expect, there's lots of improv here. Similarly, there are several “line-o-ramas,” in which joke variations are presented in rapid fire succession. Some, like the one in which Ferrell ad-libs creative uses of the F-word, are pretty funny. A three-minute gag reel earns a few laughs, too, as the stars crack each other up and generally have a hard time keeping straight faces.

Additionally, there are several featurettes devoted to the movie's comical action sequences. One focuses on Hart (who was required to do substantial harness work), another on Farrell, and yet another on a prominent fight scene in the film. Singer John Mayer's cameo is the subject of a segment, and there's a brief feature involving co-star Craig T. Nelson and the dance phenomenon known as “twerking.”

More substantive material can be found on the disc, as well. “Inmates: Out of Control” is a traditional, but welcome, making-of feature, while “Face Off” is a five-minute bit in which the two stars interview one another. Again, it offers two very funny guys chatting and riffing together, which is always fun to watch.

Last up are twenty-five minutes of deleted scenes. Again, they're mostly just extensions or variations of what's already onscreen, but if you want to see everything that was shot, this is your opportunity.

While the feature itself is scattershot, the Get Hard bonus material is largely entertaining, offering a glimpse of two great comedians at work.

Get Hard is rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity, and drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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