by Miranda Schiller @mirandadadada
James King (Will Ferrell), millionaire hedge fund manager, is convicted for fraud and embezzlement. He is quite obviously innocent and merely used as a tool in the game by his boss and “ex-future father-in-law” – his hot fiancée leaves him soon after she hears the verdict: Ten years in a maximum security prison.
This being the sort of ‘bloke’ comedy it is, his greatest fear facing ten years of incarceration is to be raped by other inmates. He decides to ask Darnell, the guy who washes his car, to prepare him for prison. Darnell (Kevin Hart) is black, so James just assumed he’s been to prison. Offended at first, Darnell decides to swallow his indignation and play along for the money, so that his little daughter doesn’t have to go to a school with safety scans at the door.
Sounds terrible, but somehow the story works a lot better on film than it seems when spelled out.
They meet for regular training sessions, which make up a large part of the film. The joke is mainly on Ferrell’s naïve, well-meaning doofus character. Although ridiculed, he remains a sympathy figure, not meaning any harm, just utterly clueless. Of course the whole premise of the story is pretty offensive, but the film makes it clear enough that we are laughing at the act of stereotyping rather than at the people who are stereotyped.
Still, you will have to accept the sort of gay-panic humour leading Ferrell to attempt to give an older man a blowjob in order to prepare himself for prison rape, but it all sounds much worse written down than it plays out in the film. Ferrell and Hart work very well as a duo, and make even the most ridiculous tropes entertaining with their well-timed dialogue and well-choreographed physical comedy.
While the film does make it obvious that both James’ and Darnell’s knowledge of prison is entirely founded on TV-generated prejudice and not on reality, it offers no alternative suggestion of what prison might actually be like, let alone the difficulties one might actually face. But then, that would most likely just not be very funny at all.
Get Hard does make an effort to counter the inevitable reproaches of homophobia, like when Darnell befriends a gay man even though that man keeps flirting with him. A scene which just screams “Look! We are totally not homophobic at all!”
Is this film going to challenge the way you think about stereotypes and make you more aware of the social and racial problems of American (or Western) society? Probably not. But it isn’t just recreating stereotypes either, and it is funny in a silly, but not stupid way.
Get Hard is on general release from Friday 27th March.