In theaters Friday, March 27
2 stars (out of 4 stars)
If the sight of Will Ferrell staring directly at a man’s penis in a bathroom doesn’t appeal to you, stay away from this raunch-fest.
Far away. As in, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel far away.
Think crude R-rated jabs at race, gender, and homosexuality. But while the comedy is an equal opportunity offender, perhaps its most egregious crime is that most of the jokes land with an awkward thud.
Ferrell goes ultrabroad here, playing what amounts to Buddy the Elf in a suit and tie. As James King, he’s an endearingly spoiled millionaire investor with a Bel Air mansion and a young and pretty fiancée (Alison Brie, underutilized). She dresses up in sexy lingerie and gets John Mayer to serenade him at a party. Life is goooood.
Then boom! He’s arrested for embezzlement and fraud, Bernie Madoff-style, and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security prison. But first he gets to spend 30 days under house arrest.
Terrified and in tears, he offers $30,000 to his car washer Darnell (Kevin Hart) to help him toughen up and “get hard” for prison life. See, he assumes that Darnell is an ex-convict because of his skin color. And he wears hoodies. (There are more uninspired stereotypes where that came from.) But he’s really just a clean-living, working-class family man living in South Central L.A. — and strapped for cash. Darnell agrees to the deal, and, amazingly, his wife’s only reaction is mild incredulity because he has never been a thug. (Good thing he has a relative who spent time in the slammer. Because of course.)
First he teaches James how to make a gruff “mad dog face.” Then he turns his tennis courts into a prison yard and runs physical drills. There’s a prison riot reenactment too. Some of it amuses: Indeed, the sight of 6-foot-3 Ferrell taking orders from 5-foot-4 Hart is a worthy gag in itself, and the stars try their mightiest to measure up to their comic personas — the former as a loveable doofus; the latter as an insecure, fast-talking jester.
Too bad they didn’t work with a sharper script! Instead the two must make do with stale and obvious jokes about rape and gay panic — and puns about, ugh, the title of this movie. In one head-shaking example, the two go to lunch, during which Darnell repeatedly tells James that he must learn how to “s–k a c—.” Cue the uncomfortable bathroom encounter.
And after it seems like there are no more racially insensitive jokes to mine, James — now working a street persona and using the nickname “Mayo” (short for mayonnaise) — hangs with a white supremacy gang. It’s lame, and on a taste level, questionable at best. And it took three screenwriters to craft it.
(Ironically, the cleanest, most nuanced jokes go over best. Hart does a hilarious riff on the plot of Boyz N the Hood, topped only by his wife’s sly line referencing The Blind Side. Later in that family dinner, his droll young daughter nearly walks off with the whole film.)
Still, the one-joke premise has its limitations. And by the final act, the entire fish-out-of-water concept is scrapped as Hart and Ferrell play bumbling cops and robbers and attempt to solve a crime. Haven’t we been punished enough?
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