Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, who star in the new Warner Bros. film “Get Hard,” are defending their film from claims it perpetuates racist and homophobic stereotypes instead of satirizing them.
In “Get Hard,” which opened Friday, Ferrell plays James King, a white-collar worker sentenced to prison for fraud and embezzlement. Hart plays King’s car washer, Darnell Lewis. The premise is simple. King (wrongly) assumes Lewis has been incarcerated because he’s black and asks Lewis to harden him up for life in prison. Enraged that King simply assumes he’s been to prison because he’s black, Lewis takes him up on his request but only after demanding $30,000.
During a Q&A session with director Etan Cohen after the film’s premiere earlier this month at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, one attendee took to the microphone to share a comment. “This film seemed racist as f—,” the audience member told Cohen, according to Variety.
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“That was a delicate balance to find,” Cohen reportedly said in response. The director said that the film was being audience tested amid the racially charged unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting death of Michael Brown. Cohen said it was difficult to know how far to push the envelope.
“Any time you’re going to do an R-rated comedy, you’re going to offend someone,” Ferrell told the Associated Press in an interview this week alongside his co-star Hart. “We provoke. We prod … We’re playing fictitious characters who are articulating some of the attitudes and misconceptions that already exist,” Ferrell said.
Hart echoed Ferrell saying that, initially, their characters judge each other based on their looks. But Hart said the two characters realize the error of their ways before the film ends. “And after peeling off some of the layers to their onion,” Hart told the AP, ”they realize that, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t the person I thought it was from the jump. It’s a completely different person.’ And that road to friendship ensues.”
The film has a low rating of only 32% on the review-aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes. Writing for The Denver Post, film critic Lisa Kennedy noted that the movie “trucks in stereotypes (black, white, Latino, female — the list is long) and plays clumsily with sexuality. Still, the movie’s greatest and altogether familiar sin is that it’s stupid.”
Crude R-rated comedies like “Get Hard” are increasingly testing the boundaries of what is and is not off limits to joke about, but to varying levels of success. In 2013, the exceedingly crude apocalyptic comedy “This is the End” featured an all-star cast of Hollywood actors playing fictitious versions of themselves, but it also featured a controversial rape joke. However, many film and culture critics felt that particular film stuck the landing when gambling on turning such a sensitive topic into a punchline.