Will Ferrell serves Hart time.
Many of the greatest comedies skewer taboos and tackle edgy subject matter, not only to raise laughs but to, y’know, make important points too. Not Get Hard, which – by way of the most heinous squandering of a premise since last year’s laugh-free Let’s Be Cops – is likely to register as one of 2015’s most crushing comedic disappointments.
The set-up seems ripe for laughs with a social conscience and the pairing of Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell should have set sparks flying. Ferrell is James King, a naive banker sentenced to hard time in a notoriously tough high-security prison. With only 30 days of his cushy gold-plated lifestyle left to savour, King pays car-cleaning entrepreneur Darnell Lewis (Hart) to train him in preparation for prison life, wrongly presuming that he’s spent time on the inside because he’s black.
So this is where clichés get upended and the one per cent gets a politically topical roasting, right? Not quite. Any likeability points earned by Hart’s hardworking family man are voided by an endless string of offensive-to-all stereotypes perpetuated for the rest of the running time, and the script’s obsession with rape jokes does nobody any favours. The chance for sharp, subversive social commentary is further blunted by King, who’s no scheming white-collar criminal, rather a spoilt but innocent manchild who’s unfairly set up to take a fall.
Screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Men In Black 3) makes his directorial debut here, with slick professionalism but a painfully poor joke strike-rate. Ferrell raises a few chuckles with his wide-eyed-ignoramus schtick but for the most part gags fall flat, with a succession of sketches standing in for a plot. The comedically gifted Alison Brie is given nothing to work with and, despite producing/story credits for regular Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay, there’s no madcap Anchorman magic here. Given the talent invested, Get Hard feels criminally wasteful.