Given their big fan bases, teaming Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart in the new movie “Get Hard” is a financially sound idea. It's also a funny one.
Consider size as a gimmick: Will Ferrell is funniest when he plays characters that are like children pretending at being an adult in a 6-foot, 3-inch teddy bear frame.
Meanwhile, Kevin Hart is funniest when he exploits his 5 feet, 4 inches, pretending to be tougher and more unpredictably explosive than he looks.
However, the really striking thing about “Get Hard” is how quickly Ferrell and Hart generate a genuine warmth together. They really do seem like the best of friends.
Ferrell plays wealthy corporate businessman James King, newly promoted by the CEO (Craig T. Nelson) and about to marry the CEO's daughter (Alison Brie). Unfortunately, he's arrested for fraud and embezzlement, though he insists he's innocent.
A judge, tired of wealthy crooks getting light sentences, gives him 10 years in San Quentin. Terrified of what will happen to him inside, he hires car detailer Darnell Lewis (Hart) to teach him to be “hard.”
The joke, and not a very good one, is that Darnell is as straight-arrow as they come and has never been to prison. But he still has plenty to teach, and he can always call on his gangster cousin Russell (rapper T.I.), who is the real deal.
Screenwriter Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder,” “Men in Black 3”) makes his feature directorial debut with “Get Hard,” and even though his movie runs only 100 minutes, it feels flabby. (The movie could have used some “hardness.”)
It can't find much of a tone, and it's neither sharply constructed, nor is it reckless or anarchic. It relies too often on prison-rape jokes, and makes vague attempts at racial-equality humor, but never feels dangerous or satirical. It's always looking for “love your brother”-type hugs.
However, in more than a few moments, the stars deliver pleasing chuckles with their chemistry, Hart putting on a show of fake knowledge, and Ferrell putting on a show of fake ignorance.
In one terrific scene, Hart pretends to be three different inmates in a fictitious prison yard, each trying to intimidate Ferrell; he dashes from one side to the other like a hip-hop Bugs Bunny, changing voices and characters, and Ferrell gets swept up in the razzle-dazzle.
Regardless of the motivation, it was a fine idea to get these two together in “Get Hard.” If only they could have had some “harder” material.
Two and a half stars
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson, T.I.
Written by: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Etan Cohen
Directed by:Etan Cohen
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes