In Get Hard, a lumpy, privileged, embarrassingly rich man named James (Will Ferrell) must go to prison because of a white-collar crime. He employs Darnell (Kevin Hart), a black man who lives in his neighborhood, to help him get ready to face the dangers of prison.
Why does James do this? Why does this rich man submit himself to unthinkable humiliation? It's all in order to avoid what he perceives to be the most fearsome thing that awaits him behind bars: sex with another man.
Murder, solitary confinement, getting shanked, isolation from your loved ones — director and screenwriter Etan Cohen (who wrote Tropic Thunder and Idiocracy) makes clear in Get Hard that these pale in comparison to the idea of male-on-male sex.
The fear of gay sex makes men do incredible things
"You need to suck a dick," Darnell tells James. He's taken James to a West Hollywood gay bar because they've accepted their fates — James's prison training isn't going so well; Darnell has run out of options.
What follows is Will Ferrell on his knees, his face to another man's junk. It feels like an audition for Fear Factor. He gags, psychs himself up, and tries, but he just can't put his mouth on a penis. It's that gross.
Meanwhile, outside, a gay guy who can't take a hint hits on Darnell. This is a major turning point for both characters — gay men have shocked them back onto the mission. Gay male sex, as Cohen and fellow screenwriters Ian Roberts and Jay Martel portray it, is so loathsome and disturbing that it has the power to change a man's life, teach him how to make and use shivs, and motivate him to learn advanced self-defense.
It was a little after this point — around an hour in — that I walked out of the screening. Yes, the idea that gay men and gay sex are loathsome is offensive. But offensiveness isn't what moved me out of my seat.
What sealed the deal was that these dated gay jokes were done in a lazy, shopworn way. And they were delivered over and over again.
There's no attempt at cleverness or insight here.
Get Hard, clearly, is not trying for depth. It's a buddy comedy, a bro-down filled with slapstick gags.
But as movies like 21 Jump Street, The Hangover, and The Heat have shown, just because the characters may act silly or dumb, the humor doesn't have to be. Cohen, along with Roberts and Martel, who write for Comedy Central's Key and Peele, should understand this. In fact, there are moments when you can see that this movie wants to convey a deeper message about class, race, and prejudice.
James is oblivious to the lives of anyone outside of his income level. He treats his maids and landscapers as if they are disposable, and on his initial meeting with Darnell he assumes Darnell is trying to rob him. On their second meeting, he assumes Darnell has been to prison. In some ways, he's meant as a parable for the American struggle with wealth inequality and how the justice system benefits the wealthy.
But James is often left off the hook.
He's written as a half-wit. Although he's making multimillion-dollar trades, he's clueless when it comes to what's going on around him. He doesn't realize his fiancée (Allison Brie) is only dating him for money, that Darnell is manipulating him, or that his boss, Martin (Craig T. Nelson), might not be a great guy.
His idiocy, along with everyone who preys on this idiocy, is meant to make us realize he's not as awful as he seems. And that, unfortunately, wholly undermines whatever satire the movie was aiming for.
What we're left with is a lazy piece of filmmaking that lacks teeth. All it really wants to do is show you Ferrell and Hart are the good, funny guys. And perhaps that's why we're hit with a barrage of dated jokes, dull punchlines, and offensive gags. It's doubly strange watching Ferrell, who is exponentially smarter and more aware than this film would indicate, lean into the low-effort material he's given.
For a movie that wants to send a message about privilege and prejudice, it displays a clumsiness and exemplifies a lot of the ignorance and thoughtlessness it wants to rage against. Get Hard wants you to laugh at James's privilege and his inability to see outside his own world, yet it seems oblivious when it comes to its own. And asking an audience to spend time with its laziness might be the most offensive joke of all.