Sometimes we fall out of love with our favorite stars. You love their work for a long time, but, eventually, they either grow out of the roles you loved them in or don’t grow at all. You become ambivalent to their shenanigans. Will Ferrell was once my go-to guy for funny-on-film: “Old School,” “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” “Ste Brothers.” He was a catchphrase-creating, laugh-inducing machine. His last few films have been well-intentioned bores: movies that never seem to deliver on the promise of the set-up, like “The Campaign” or the disappointing “Anchorman 2.”
It happens to most comedic actors. I can remember when Ben Stiller was doing stuff like “Zoolander,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “Meet the Parents.” He was on top of his game, delivering some great laughs in a variety of mainstream comedies. Then he started doing dreck like “Night at the Museum,” and before long, we were struggling to get through dreadful trash like “Tower Heist,” “Little Fockers” and “The Watch.”
Or Chevy Chase. Remember the hilariousness of “Caddyshack,” “National Lampoon’s “Vacation” and “Spies Like Us”? Eventually, we get to phase two and he unloads bricks of compacted garbage, like “Cops and Robbersons,” “Nothing But Trouble” and “Vegas Vacation.”
My point is: Eventually, comedians hit a point of no return, where their antics no longer are funny. No matter how hard they try, the comedian’s shtick will become tired. We could call it “The Eddie Murphy Principle”—the point where we begin to tire of a comedian. What once seemed funny, original and irreverent (like “48 Hours”) is now just infrequently annoying movies that should be funnier (“Another 48 Hours”).
For Ferrell and Kevin Hart, “Get Hard” is that movie. It’s amazing how fast Kevin Hart went from “the next big thing” to yawn-inducing boredom. Ferrell is at the same point in his career, but he’s been turning in some mostly funny films for a decade. Hart has churned out a dozen films over four years, and it feels like I’ve already seen every trick in his repertoire.
“Get Hard” is another film where premise trumps everything else. Ferrell is a Wall Street tycoon framed for embezzlement. Hart is the cash-strapped nice guy in need of a quick influx of cash to provide his family with a better life. When Ferrell comes to Hart to ask for help to ready him for prison, Hart embraces the false assertion that he’s been to prison and starts training him for the difficulties of incarcerated life. It’s a film with such a flimsy comedic premise that boils down to “white people are like this” and “black people are like this.” There are attempts at wringing out every bead of comedic sweat between Ferrell’s height and Hart’s lack thereof. While it’s something that might have seemed riskier 20 years ago, now—even in this time of racial strife in this country—the whole thing feels crazy safe. Every joke feels recycled, and every storyline is rooted in a familiar place.
I don’t expect subtlety from a movie featuring Ferrell and Hart. The jokes are rapid-fire and brutally obvious, but the whole thing is just too on-the-nose. There are no levels to “Get Hard.” It’s one note laboriously hammered, like a marching band featuring nothing but snare drummers, with a single drumstick pounding away. I kept thinking about smarter, funnier versions of a similar setup, like “Trading Places”—a movie both funnier and more honest about race some 30 years ago.
I can’t fault “Get Hard” for playing it safe; there’s so little money in risk. I can’t in good conscience strongly recommend something so bland as “Get Hard” either. Much like “The Campaign,” it takes a subject just ripe for the picking and delivers something that refuses to use the premise for anything other than a setup. This is a bad sketch of a movie—a muddling routine from Def Comedy Jam circa 1998. “Get Hard” is the worst thing a comedy can be: risk free.
Kevin Hart might have some gas left in the tank at the box office, but I feel he needs to make a left turn before he shows up in so many films that audiences start to sour. Much like Liam Neeson, one can only appear in a handful of dreadfully similar films before everybody proclaims, “Been there, done that.” “Get Hard” is proof-positive that Ferrell’s best years seem to be squarely in the rear view mirror. A sobering experience good for a handful of laughs. A film that will be forgotten within minutes of exiting the theater.
Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie
Directed by Etan Cohen