The premise of Get Hard seemed problematic even before the buddy comedy hit theaters. Will Ferrell plays James King, a white businessman who knows enough about black people to assume every black man has been to prison at least once in their lives. Doomed to a long prison stretch despite being innocent of his crime, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) is who King turns to in order to “get hard” so he can survive in prison. Lewis accepts the offer despite being a law-abiding citizen and business man because King is offering to pay him $30,000.
Commercially, the movie seems to be doing well. Get Hard is on track to earn over $30 million (it cost about $40 million to make), which suggests that it could make a profit over the next few weeks. It’s the critical acclaim that is lacking. Instead, Get Hard has been largely panned by film critics. At present, the film has a 32 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) March 27, 2015
The idea of Get Hard is offensive enough, but that hasn’t always stopped racially charged comedies from being enjoyed by critics. In fact, Get Hard is repeatedly compared to classics like Trading Places and Blazing Saddle. But mainly critics took aim at the Hart/Ferrell comedy, holding these movies up as an example of how the comedy failed.
Christopher Orr of the Atlantic noted that Get Hard was in a prime position to make some of the intelligent observations about class and race seen in Trading Places. However, Orr said that the movie instead went low-brow humor and leaned far heavily on gags.
“Get Hard, alas, is no Trading Places. Though it shares the critique of wealthy privilege and racial stereotyping, [this] is a broader, duller, and more haphazard movie, one in which the gags—some funny, some not—drive the story, rather than the other way around.”
But race and class issues weren’t the only failed humor that critics took issue with. Bilge Ebiri at Vulture said that Get Hard was ultimately “just one big prison-rape joke”.
“While Darnell attempts to teach James how to act (and be) tough, it’s all at the service of keeping him from becoming someone’s ‘b***h’ — not exactly fresh comic ground.
The film does cross the line when, convinced he can’t teach James to protect himself, Darnell gives up and takes him to a gay bar so he can ‘learn to suck d**k.’ Obviously, the conflation of homosexuality with prison rape is downright psychotic, and partly positing this as a sign of Darnell’s own cluelessness doesn’t help matters much.”
But perhaps the most poignant observation of how Get Hard missed both the social and comedic mark came from Aisha Harris. In her movie review for Slate, Harris said that the movie took one opportunity to poke fun at the very bigotry permeating throughout the movie. “It’s too bad the rest of Get Hard feels nowhere near as subversive as this isolated scene,” lamented Aisha.
“Stereotypes are thrown about haphazardly, without any true examination of what they mean.
Truly subversive satire is clear about criticizing societal norms, as Mel Brooks did so well with his racist western town in Blazing Saddles. But save for one brief moment, Get Hard’s jokes about homophobia and racism are too blurry to have much impact at all.”
Both Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart have responded to the numerous concerns about and criticisms of Get Hard.
“Anytime you’re going to do an R-rated comedy, you’re going to offend someone,” said Ferrell.
“We’re playing fictitious characters who are articulating some of the attitudes and misconceptions that already exist.”
Kevin Hart said that there were “layers” to the characters. Only after “peeling away” their previous misconceptions could the two characters become friends.
Do you think Get Hard goes too far with its humor, or is it an honest reflection about social attitudes today?
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]