Hard times for Ferrell and Hart

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are very funny men, but Get Hard is not a very funny movie.

Yet even saddled with a fatally flimsy premise that pounds most of its jokes into the ground, the two stars bring a likable energy to the proceedings, sometimes finding laughs where none would otherwise be found. And, even as the film adheres to stereotypes, it manages to score few points by satirizing those stereotypes.

Ferrell, also a producer, occupies a very familiar role as James King, a hedge-fund banker engaged to the boss’ daughter (Alison Brie), whose world comes crashing down when he is sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzlement and fraud. To “prepare” himself for incarceration, he enlists the services of Darnell Lewis (Hart), who runs a car-wash business in the parking garage of James’ office, believing that Darnell has done hard time.

Actually, he hasn’t, although in one of the film’s best scenes he recounts his “criminal” past by borrowing the storyline from Boyz N the Hood (1991), which James buys hook, line and sinker. Yes, this is the age-old buddy-comedy scenario pairing an uptight white guy with a streetwise black guy. They laugh together and they learn together, and it all ends up right where you think it will.

James will of course discover Darnell’s ruse – at a predictably inopportune time – and Darnell will of course help clear James’ name. It’s transparent from the get-go that, as arrogant and clueless an oaf as James is, he’s not really a bad guy. And it’s just as transparent that the actual culprit is his boss and future father-in-law, Martin Barrow (Craig T. Nelson).

Too often, the film must fall back on the insipid story to carry it along, and too often, Get Hard recycles ideas and themes from 48 HRS. (1982) or Trading Places (1983) or even Bringing Down the House (2001), all of which were funnier and even more insightful.

Edwina Findley (as Darnell’s wife) and rapper T.I. (as Darnell’s cousin, a real gangsta) are appealing in their roles; Nelson, Paul-Ben Victor (as Martin’s henchman) and Greg Germann (as Martin’s typically sleazy lawyer) are on auto-pilot; John Mayer and Jimmy Fallon play themselves; and Brie’s turn as the fickle fiancee doesn’t require much effort – although her lingerie scene is certainly memorable. !