Though Get Hard represents the directorial debut of director Etan Cohen, it reflects the sensibilities of producer Adam McKay, who directed previous Will Ferrell films, including Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers. Following up on the theme of The Other Guys, Get Hard sets its sights on Hedge Funds, and the out-of-touch types who manage them.
Will Ferrell stars are James, a successful hedge fund manager, who enjoys life in a lavish home, staffed by servants who resent his lack of consideration for them as people. James is not mean-spirited; he’s simply not involved in other people’s problems or their plight. It doesn’t occur to him that others struggle, or that he can do anything to ease their day-to-day problems. At the moment, James is focusing on his fiancee Alissa (Allison Brie), the beautiful daughter of James’ boss Martin (Craig T. Nelson). Alissa wants a bigger and more opulent home, which puzzles James, as his estate is considerable, indeed. Much to his surprise, James’ engagement party is interrupted by the FBI, which arrests James on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Though Martin and his lawyers push James to take a plea deal with a 1-year sentence, James displays more moral fiber than anyone anticipated and plans to fight the charges every step of the way, convinced that his innocence will win the day.
On the other side of town, Kevin Hart co-stars as Darnell Lewis. Darnell is a happily married family man, with a wife and daughter that he adores. He works hard every day washing cars and desperately saving money in order to move his family to a better neighborhood. Though he works extremely long hours, Darnell has not been able to save enough. One of the places where he washes cars is James’ company. When James encounters Darnell after his arraignment, he is struck by the idea that Darnell can teach him to survive in prison, given that he MUST have a prison record. At first, Darnell is offended and appalled (he doesn’t even have a parking ticket on record), but then he realizes that James would give him a lot of money for his “coaching,” and decides to exploit James’ casual racist assumptions for his own benefit.
The premise of the movie is a fun and funny one. Ferrell hits just the right balance of naivete and callousness. James is a tricky character to write and play. Too much arrogance, and the character loses all of the audience’s sympathy. Too much innocence, and Darnell’s character would seem too mean. Ferrell’s James is racist, classist, and aloof, but he’s honest and scared, and innocent of the charges, so it’s gratifying to see him become increasingly aware and sympathetic to the problems of others. I was particularly struck by the fact that the film clearly expresses contempt for James’ lavish lifestyle. The frequent cutaways to his servants’ reactions emphasize how ridiculous his greed is. Films usually fawn over and fetishize opulence, but in one key scene, Get Hard lampoons this film trope in the most literal sense, as James’ conspicuous consumption is sexually linked to his fiancee’s writhing, semi-naked body.
For his part, Kevin Hart’s Darnell is a performance within a performance, as the hard ex-con persona he adopts for James’ benefit is worlds away from the gentle family man that Darnell actually is. A couple of unfortunate (and cliched) homophobic jokes aside, it’s fun to watch Hart and Ferrell interact and fly by the seat of their pants. The movie shines when they are onscreen together.
Watch Get Hard when it premieres on all HBO platforms on December 5th.