How much you’ll dislike “Get Hard,” the new jestfest from farceurs Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, depends a lot on which side of the funny fence you operate.
If you’re the type to overhype every harmless jape as some kind of microagression, stay away. But if you recognize that mocking a stereotype is not the same as mocking a person, then you might find the derivative comedy moderately mirthful and at times (a few, anyway) downright laugh-out-loud hysterical.
Not as well executed as “Trading Places” but rocking a similar vibe, Will Ferrell is one-percenter James King who learns too late that he is a patsy set-up for a 10-year stint in San Quentin for his firm’s financial malfeasance.
As mortified of people of color as was Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III, King engages the only minority he knows — car wash owner Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), who he assumes has done time — as his personal “incarceration expert.” Darnell needs the cash so he swaps his umbrage for pragmatism, confessing to his nay-saying wife, “I’ll be every stereotype he thinks I am if it’ll get me what I want.” So he turns King’s Bel Air estate into a simulated prison in order to transform the pantywaist into a cartoonish thug capable of surviving hard-time.
King’s style of cussin’ Darnell accurately assesses as “unconventional” (I would call it “tired”) and his idea of relatin’ (“Yo, gimme a Wall Street Journal and a forty”) is not exactly reaching for high comic ground, nor is his gang name “Mayo.”
And then there’s this: If you’re a middle-aged action type (e.g., Sean Penn in “The Gunman”) you flash your pecs. Well, apparently, if you’re a middle-aged comedy star you flash your glutes. Ferrell does. Twice. (Here’s a suggestion for the cinemas: an eyewash station!)
To be fair, I didn’t plan to be wowed but expected more from director Etan Cohen who penned comedies “Idiocracy,” “Tropic Thunder,” and TV’s “King of the Hill” and “American Dad.”
This one relies too much on the worst prison clichés (“keistering” is the butt of several jokes) and too little on originality (the lone gem is Ferrell asking if there’s a French gang with whom he can align in the prison yard for safety).
I modulated between laughs and feeling like I was being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
Craig T. Nelson co-stars.