Editor’s Notes: Get Hard and Pit Stop are out on their respective formats June 30th.
Get Hard (Warner Home Video) stars Will Ferrell as fund manager James King, a man with an affluent lifestyle who loves his material possessions. He lives in a huge mansion, has a lovely young fiancee (Alison Brie), and is on the verge of making partner at a top investment firm. This idyllic picture is interrupted when FBI agents descend on King, arresting him for a series of white-collar crimes. Refusing to take a plea deal because he insists he is innocent, King is sentenced to ten years in San Quentin by a judge wanting to make an example. He has 30 days before his sentence begins.
When all his options are exhausted, King approaches Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), who runs a small car washing and detailing business. Assuming incorrectly that Lewis has been to prison, King offers to pay him for prison training — getting him ready to deal with the not-so-pleasant world behind bars. Lewis recognizes this as a chance to bankroll his own business and move his family out of a tough neighborhood.
Though the film’s premise is far-fetched, the Ferrell/Hart duo make for some excellent comedy moments. Ferrell has always been a comedian who will do whatever it takes to milk a gag, and he’s in top form here. Hart, essentially the straight man, is the guy more grounded in reality who is motivated by self-betterment, though he lies about being in prison to cinch the deal. Ferrell’s King is totally ignorant about prison, except what he’s seen in movies, and he is terrified that he doesn’t have the grit to survive a day, let alone ten years.
The script resorts excessively to raunchy language and naughty images, including Ferrell’s naked behind, rather than comically exploring more intimately the lives of the two central characters — men from wildly disparate circumstances. The movie sets up its premise and rat-tat-tats the gags one after another, insuring plenty of laughs.
Bonus features on unrated the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted scenes, gag reel, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes. There is also a digital HD copy.
Pit Stop (Arrow) is set against the world of smack ‘em up Figure 8 drag racing, a high risk competition in which cars race wildly, trying to gain any advantage by slamming their cars into one another. The intersection of the “8” is especially dangerous as cars have to navigate oncoming cars while trying to keep their speed up. The race sequences are expertly filmed, edited to maximize thrills, and very exciting.
The story, unfortunately, is fairly routine. Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) is the head of a racing team who picks young drivers he feels have the potential to win. He takes rookie driver Rick Bowman (Dick Davalos, East of Eden) under his wing and grooms him for entry into the racing circuit. The arrogant driver Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig) is their nemesis, as he tries to undermine Willard’s team both on and off the track. A few romantic subplots are tossed in more to fill time than to add substance.
Performances are wooden and the direction by Jack Hill (Coffy, Foxy Brown) uninspired. The movie drags when the scene shifts away from the track for half-hearted character development. Donlevy’s career dates back to the silent era and Pit Stop was his last feature film (he died in 1972). He looks uncomfortable in most of his scenes, as if wondering “How did I get involved in this?” Davalos shows little range, trying to channel a James Dean vibe but coming up short. Ellen Burstyn (billed as Ellen McRae) appears in a small part, just three years before starring in The Exorcist. Also starring is Beverly Washburn, whose face — if not her name — is probably known by thousands of Baby Boomers from her numerous TV appearances as a child actor in the 50s and 60s. She plays Jolene, a sort of race track groupie who takes a romantic fancy to Rick.
Blu-ray bonus features include audio commentary by director Jack Hill; interview with Roger Corman discussing his involvement with Pit Stop; making-of featurette; reminiscences by actor Sid Haig; a restoration demonstration by James White, who supervised the restoration of Pit Stop; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned art work; and a collector’s booklet.
For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.