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Every year the SXSW Film portion allows for one rather big budget film soon to see national release wind up on its doorstep. Like Kick Ass and Chef before it, someone thought it would be wise to inject a little fun into SXSW with Get Hard, the heavily promoted prison buddy comedy with Kevin Hart & Will Ferrell.

I was sitting next to a middle-to-late aged Austinite woman. We had spoken a bit before the movie about different films we both had seen prior to this one. I was left to wonder if she enjoyed the characters of Hollywood’s two most sought after comedic actors or if the scenes and dialogue that included gay rape and racial stereotypes offended her?

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We’ve all seen the commercials. Rich white guy James King (Ferrell) gets sentenced to San Quentin prison for fraud. With only a short time to prepare himself for what’s to come, he recruits the only black guy he knows, Darnell (Hart), to teach him the ins and outs of prison life. During this ‘get prepped for prison bootcamp’ James find himself engulfed in different scenarios (led by Darnell) ranging from learning to perform certain oral favors to getting set up with protection from a gang leader played by Tip “T.I” Harris. At times, it seems as the film wants us, the audience member, to examine the political aspect of prison life. At other times, its just a medley of jokes to make us laugh – to remind us not to take life to seriously.

During the post-screening, the movie’s director, Etan Cohen stepped on stage (sans Hart and Ferrell) for a short Q&A. Imagine my surprise when one of the audience members stepped to the mic and blatantly told Cohen, “This film seemed racist as fuck.” But hey, I guess he was audacious enough to say what many were thinking. However, I have to applaud Cohen for not being easily rattled. It took him a moment to compose himself after that hearing that bold statement.

“The truth was that was a really delicate balance … It was really a hard thing to modulate because we really wanted to make a statement about stuff. We wanted to think about this stuff and think about the stereotypes but not go too far, where comedy doesn’t deserve to go,” he said. It was a smart answer – a response that seemed to satisfy most. His words were careful and calculated – perhaps wisdom from past critical response surrounding Robert Downey Jr.’s black face in Tropic Thunder prepared him for this.

At best Get Hard is 100 minutes of entertainment, some laughter and some shock factors. While the film’s actors Ferrell and Hart are not easily forgettable, the film is. Is it offensive? You decide. Get Hard starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hard, produced by Etan Cohen opens nationwide at a theatre near you on March 27.

Photos by Jenna / Day & A Dream

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