Cert 15 | ★★★☆☆
In Get Hard, James King (Will Ferrell) is a rich, clueless trader whose life falls apart when he’s convicted of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin State Prison. With 30 days to get his affairs in order James hires Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), the manager of his local car wash, for a crash course on how to survive inside.
Darnell has no clue about life in prison, but he’s black, so James assumes he does. And that’s the set up for a miss-matched buddy comedy which gets mixed returns as it plays with issues of class and race, and the sensitivities of its audience. Welcome to Trading Places, 2015.
James is a manchild, whose father shipped him off to boarding school with the Murdochs and the Bin Ladens. Ferrell’s portrayal is surprisingly subtle, initially coming across as a callous and self-invaginated, James is gradually revealed to be a well-meaning simpleton, full of bad ideas and misinformation. Darnell is a struggling, lower middleclass entrepreneur, trying to do the best for his family, and when James offers to pay him $30,000 for prison school, Darnell sees it as an opportunity to move his daughter to a better school district. Fast-talking Hart displays considerable versatility, and is especially impressive switching rapidly between three roles in an argument, as Darnell demonstrates prison yard survival skills to James.
From a technical standpoint, Get Hard is a fairly well-tooled comedy. The pacing is good, as is the joke-rate, with the volume compensating somewhat for a lack of quality. Aside from the sight gags based on the two leads’ disparity in size – James uses Darnell as a barbell – the slew of jokes about race and homosexuality reveal a strong strain of 80s comedy in its DNA.
As it progresses, Get Hard becomes an incredibly simple mystery, as the odd couple inevitably fall into investigating how and why James was convicted, leading to a unexpectedly satisfying showdown. As a satire it’s rather patchier, but then can you really dislike a film featuring a shiv-wielding baboon?