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Get Hard, Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart

Patti Perret 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Before I saw Get Hard, I had quite the first impression built up in my mind. For starters, I had seen the trailers featuring Will Ferrell in all of his Lil Wayne-ian glory, getting lessons in prison rape from Kevin Hart, distasteful hand motions and gay jokes included. I'd read about the disastrous SXSW premiere, in which an audience member said, during a post-screening Q&A with director Etan Cohen, "This film seems racist as f--k."

I'd also seen all of Hart's recent movies—The Wedding Ringer, Think Like a Man Too, About Last Night—each one more disappointing than the last. I'd become used to expecting cheap gag jokes, tired tropes and totally predictable plot lines that leave Hart to do all the work, which results in him (very literally) flailing around like a madman trying to make comedy out of nothing.

Basically, I thought that Get Hard would be a lazy comedy that played off black stereotypes, gay panic jokes and penis shots thrown in for no reason at all (see: The Wedding Ringer).

I should mention that I wasn't happy about this expectation. Not only do I love a good raunchy comedy, but on paper this should be a good movie! Or at least a pretty OK movie that isn't a complete waste of time. Ferrell and Hart are two of the biggest comedians out there right now; the movie was basically created as a way to pair them (and their box office success) together. Kevin is a smart comedian whose stellar standup suggests that he should be better at picking scripts than he is (although that's a topic for an entirely different piece), and Will is Will. There's so much potential for funny here that I was hoping my first impression was wrong. 

Luckily, it kind of was. What I actually got when I watched Get Hard was laughs. Not gut-busting laughs, but more than a few chuckles. In the flick, filthy rich James King (Ferrell) gets framed for fraud and embezzlement and hires his car washer Darnell (Hart) to help him prepare for prison. Never mind that Darnell's never actually been to jail—James just assumes he has since he's black. Seriously.

The tone of the movie is a parody that speaks just as much to our country's screwed-up, unfair class system as it does to race. The funniest jokes come at the expense of stereotyping white male bankers (is there anything more enjoyable than trashing white male bankers?). James lives in a huge mansion in Beverly Hills with a stereotypically bimbo wife, is rude to his (mostly foreign) staff and has ridiculous hobbies like capoeira lessons with a private teacher. The movie offsets his disgustingly over-the-top lifestyle with Darnell's have-not world in L.A.'s Crenshaw district. 

These were the moments I liked, whether it's making fun of white people and their love of John Mayer, or all of James' completely false preconceptions of black people (gin and juice and aforementioned Lil Wayne outfit, to name a few). Will Ferrell's doofus vibe, which can get old, suits it well. Hart is noticeably less, er, hyperactive as well, and actually gets some laughs. One scene in which he acts out a prison yard, playing an inmate from every different gang, comes to mind. The movie is edgy and brash, sure, but the whole point of a movie like this is to toe the line of appropriateness—it's shock value comedy and we'd be amiss to expect something really highbrow here.

Get Hard wasn't all pleasant surprises, though. Certain scenes definitely felt slightly homophobic, but in my opinion that effect comes more out of laziness than out of ill will towards the gay community (which, to be sure, isn't a much better excuse). The movie has its share of previously mentioned "ew, gay people" jokes, including one not really OK scene where Will Ferrell's character tries to practice oral sex on a man in the bathroom of a gay bar. (Spoiler alert: It's not handled respectfully). 

The filmmakers have voraciously defended this material, with director Etan Cohen telling BuzzFeed "I think the litmus test of doing an edgy movie is to be able to take it just to the edge where people start to get offended. That's what makes it, I think, effective as a satire." Producer Adam McKay also said "Any individual going to maximum security prison would be afraid of violence and sexual assault. To equate that with homosexuality is ridiculous." I understand why they touched on the topic, sure, but the execution should have been better. And there's absolutely no need for almost 15 minutes of total screen time to be devoted to that lame running joke. 

So what's the verdict here? I think that Get Hard has something legitimate to say, but it's a shame that some of the more offensive jokes overshadow the commentary on income inequality and race relations. In a perfect world I would have gone into my viewing with a completely open mind—there's something to be said for getting the actual first impression of a movie, and not an impression that's been littered with opinions from the Internet. But in the meantime, I am happy that Kevin Hart's finally in something that didn't make me want to cover my eyes and cry for the entire duration. (Again, The Wedding Ringer, that's you.)