The Frat Pack prime mover teams up with Kevin Hart for a career reboot – but while there are laughs, the racial and sexual politics already seem dated
Get Hard is a comedy that will make a lot of people very angry. At a Q&A after it debuted at SXSW on Monday night, an audience member told director Etan Cohen: “As a fellow Jew, I’ve got to say that this film seemed racist as fuck.” Cohen, who was visibly stunned by the comment, said that the film had tried to find “a delicate balance” and was satirising stereotypes rather than reinforcing them, adding that it was screen tested during Ferguson. However, it’s hard to see that moment of acute racial sensitivity in America as having had much impact on the film.
It stars Will Farrell as James King, an entitled tycoon who starts the day in his Bel Air mansion doing yoga naked at the window, oblivious to the revulsion of his Latino gardeners. When he is charged with insider trading and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin jail by a judge hoping to make an example of him, he enlists Darnell (Kevin Hart), who washes his cars, to help him prepare for prison. Darnell is black; King chooses him on the basis that a third of black men in America will be incarcerated in their lifetime, and assumes that he has been already. Darnell goes along with the idea for the money King will pay him, though in fact he’s a law-abiding citizen in khaki chinos.
So far, so dodgy; and the film’s politics become even more dubious when it comes apparent, as per the title, that what King really fears is being raped in prison. Having failed miserably at Darnell’s attempts to toughen him up by picking fights with random hard cases in the local park, Darnell says that he will have to learn “how to suck dick. When life puts a dick in your mouth, you make dick-ade.” This leads to a scene in a gay bar where Farrell attempts to overcome his revulsion and give a predatory middle-aged man a blow job in a toilet stall, before failing and collapsing in tears against his semi-flaccid penis.
Written down, this sounds horrendous; watching it, I have to admit that I laughed – Farrell is a gifted comic performer – and I’m gay. But I suspect that in years to come, media studies students will watch this film and be astonished that such a negative portrayal of homosexuality persisted in the mainstream in 2015. The film’s sensitivity to race isn’t much better. It sees King attempting to join a white supremacist fraternity at Darnell’s instigation, and then finally bonding with a black gang who he teaches the tricks of his trade: “The stock market is gangsta,” they conclude.
The film totally runs out of juice in its final quarter, when the real culprits of the insider trading are tracked down, and concludes in a plethora of penis-related puns on the title. I don’t believe Get Hard sets out to be hurtful, and there are some good gags (particularly King’s prison trash talk: “You’ve got 20 likes on Instafuck! ... You’re a disappointment to your parents, who I fucked.”), but it does seem dumb and dated. Hart, a huge force on social media, seemed to anticipate the reaction before the screening. He told the audience: “Jump on Twitter, I’ll talk to you back. But if you don’t like it, what I want you to do is go into the middle of the street and kill yourself.”
This article was written by Alex Needham in Austin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th March 2015 15.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010