A comedy that is all wasted potential is really frustrating. This was a really frustrating movie.
I did get the vibe that would be the case when the marketing for this movie was suddenly out of control. I feel like for the last couple of weeks, Ferrell and Hart have been everywhere together. They were even on SportsCenter the other day. To be honest, the ‘lip sync’ battle they had on the Tonight Show may have been more entertaining than this movie.
Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell are easily two of the funniest guys on the planet. I am definitely more of a Kevin Hart fan than a Ferrell fan, and I’m still a Kevin Hart fan, but this movie was really a struggle.
James is a hedge fund trader who is living the high life. His boss is thrilled with his performance and has suddenly just made him partner at his firm - either because he's doing a great job - or because James is about to marry his daughter. In either case, he's really fond of James...suspiciously fond of James. So, things are going great for James, he lives in a huge house, drives a great car, and (this part gets a little lost, which is strange, because it is key) is good at his job. Darnell is a hardworking manager of a car washing company that has been washing James’s car for years. Darnell is looking to get $30,000 to get a loan on a new house in a better area to send his daughter to a better school. When James is suddenly indicted for funds mismanagement, he cannot believe it, and maintains his innocence. Usually crimes of that nature are punished in a white collar facility; however, the judge is tired of his ilk and decides to send him to San Quentin for 10 years. He has 30 days to get his things in order. James panics, and asks Darnell for assistance in prepping to survive in prison – as Darnell did (he bases this assumption on the “statistical fact that 1 in 3 African-American men have been incarcerated”). The catch is that Darnell has never been to prison, and has no advice to give – but charges $30,000 for his guidance services anyway. Darnell calls his cousin (who has been to prison) for advice, and begins training James over the next 30 days to survive. Essentially the entire movie is based around the joke (I’m sorry, I meant “joke”) that James does not want to be sexually assaulted in prison - or, you know, prison-rape jokes. As Darnell gets to know James more, he realizes that he really is innocent, and so they attempt to find out who framed him – which they solve in record time (honestly, you've probably figured it out from the last two paragraphs), then hatch a scheme to find evidence against the true perpetrator – which they find in record time. James helps Darnell set up a huge car wash business which makes him enough money to move to a better area and send his daughter to a better school. Sorry – spoiler alert – happy ending.
This movie is directed by Etan Cohen (who is not Ethan Coen). This is his feature directing debut, and he had previously just written smarter comedies than this – Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy, and MIB3. It’s not that he’s a bad director, there’s not a ton of directing to do with a movie with two power stars. In fact, the movie probably could have used less directing, just let them go a bit more. The problem with the movie is that while the premise could have been hilarious, and the movie could have been a really smart comedy about stereotypes (prison, race, job, etc.), it just keeps beating the same dead jokes over and over again. Darnell states all he has to do is "play on every stereotype that James thinks he is”. That would have been a far smarter and more interesting movie. Both the leads try, but it just falls a bit flat. Honestly, I wanted them to start working on who had framed him a bit more, and have that be more of the story - and cut some of the prison-rape jokes. As it is – after a 5 minute discussion, they figure out who framed him, and after a 6 minute breaking-into-his-office scene, they find evidence that will clear James. I mean – really? Stretch that out for smarter and more interesting comedy! But no, they had to get right back into “fear-of-dick-sucking” jokes. Sorry – but three-fourths of the movie is “fear-of-dick-sucking” jokes. I have no problem with lowest common denominator jokes, hell – Shakespeare pioneered that, but when the potential is there for so much more, it’s really disappointing. The cast did try their best –
- I am not really a big Will Ferrell fan. He is best when playing a character – this is why Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory are funnier, and why he was so good on SNL – he’s a sketch comedy artist more than a stand-up type comedian. In this movie, he’s given slightly less of a character to play and a little more of a real human. He can be effective in that if it’s committed one hundred percent (if you haven’t seen Stranger Than Fiction – rent it now, “I brought you flours!”). But here, since it’s low-brow without committing to low-brow, it just doesn’t work.
- Kevin Hart continues to be the hardest working man in Hollywood as he churns out movie after movie. And he is really funny whenever he can in this movie, but continuing to push the same jokes over and over is just tedious. Again – I wonder what the movie would have been if Hart and Ferrell had been let go a little more. Hart needs the right role in order to show what he really can do – and honestly, I thought the About Last Night remake was the closest he had come. Maybe he needs an action-comedy type role…a little more Eddie Murphy/Beverly Hills Cop-ish? But – also, Netflix the Real Husbands of Hollywood if you haven’t seen that yet, and watch Hart play himself but with the volume turned way up.
- Craig T. Nelson plays James’s boss and future father-to-be. He plays essentially the same type of character he played in The Proposal, but with less depth. Rent The Proposal if you haven’t seen that.
- Alison Brie plays Alissa – James’s fiancée, and you can already guess that she is just there for the money, and as soon as that disappears, she does too. Also - I have a problem with the fact that Alison Brie is far more hilarious than this movie allows her to be.
- Edwina Findley Dickerson plays Rita – Darnell’s wife, and she gets very little to do, which is a shame, because I thought she was pretty good when she was on screen. I also enjoyed the scenes with their daughter – she was pretty funny too!
- Erick Chavarria plays Cecelio – who is every movie stereotype of the Hispanic gardener rolled into one. He works for James, and then helps Darnell “train” him for prison.
- T.I. plays Darnell’s cousin Russell, who is in a gang, and has been to prison. He is not all that fond of Darnell, but agrees to help with Darnell’s plan.
- Paul Ben-Victor plays Gayle – Craig T. Nelson’s right hand man.
- John Mayer plays John Mayer – and yes, John Mayer is in this movie. That really should give you an idea of the quality right there.
- Hilarious stand-up comedian Ron Funches plays JoJo, a member of Russell’s gang. He’s currently on Undateable on NBC, which I have found to be almost Unwatchable – but who knows, maybe it will improve. You’re better off watching @Midnight on Comedy Central to catch Funches at his best.
Overall the movie had an interesting idea that could have been turned into a smart comedy, but unfortunately it started in the gutter and stayed there. There are some funny scenes, but the problem is there are a lot of unfunny scenes surrounding those. The other problem is that the supporting cast was made up of really funny people who were given nothing to do. I have no doubt it will do well box-office wise, the charm of the two stars is almost enough to outweigh the lame-ness of the story - almost..
4 out of 10. Gained points for Darnell using the plot of Boyz in the Hood as his own backstory. Lost points for the constant use of one joke over and over again (prison-rape, hilarious!), lost points for the white supremacist biker gang (oh, by the way, this movie has a white supremacist biker gang in it – and one of the female members of said gang is topless – for no reason whatsoever); lost points for the interesting part of the plot being almost no time on screen. Gained points for James helping the gang invest their money, because it gave Ron Funches some lines...but then lost points because it never allowed him to giggle, and he has the best giggle of all time.
Bonus Video 1: Trading Places – one of the smartest comedies ever – which does take stereotypes and work comedy into them, with Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy at their very best. If you haven’t seen it – or haven’t seen it in a while, go watch it now.
Bonus Video 2: Stranger Than Fiction – Will Ferrell proving he can be better than you think.
Bonus Video 3: About Last Night – Kevin Hart proving he can be better than you think – also, more Michael Ealy is always better.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews