RATING |

NOW THAT Starbucks has somehow failed to initiate a meaningful conversation on race by writing cryptic slogans on coffee cups, the job falls to "Get Hard."

The movie stars Kevin Hart as Darnell, an entrepreneur hired by a just-convicted financial swindler and racial ignoramus named James (Will Ferrell), who needs to prepare for prison life.

Darnell is in no way qualified to do this - he's a family man with no criminal record. He takes the job, in part for the money, in part to make a righteous profit from James' casual racism - James says he assumes that Darnell is an ex-con because he lives in South Central.

This set-up has potential, and is suited to the leads' comic specialties - Hart the fronting, hustling go-getter whose comic bravado hides insecurity, and Ferrell the Great White Entitled Dope, making obtuse blunders about gender, race, class, etc.

Hart and Ferrell are too funny not to squeeze a laugh or two out of this, and Ferrell's trademark willingness to surrender all dignity on the way to a joke can seem almost heroic, as it does here.

For the most part, though, the two do what comedians too often do in Hollywood comedies - contend with lazy writing.

You expected this from a movie titled "Get Hard." Still, the movie devotes an astounding amount of scatological (and proctological) time to James' fear of being raped in prison. There are dozens of jokes about James' rear end (the script turns "keister" into a verb), even more about prison sex, including a bit that has Darnell sending James to the bathroom stall of a gay bar in an effort to practice prison survival skills.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

As for race, part of the plot finds Ferrell seeking to "blood in" as a member of a Compton gang in order to receive protection in prison, a subplot that feeds into stereotypes that "Get Hard" theoretically seeks to upend.

Ferrell and Hart are talented comedians, and with the right script could have headlined something halfway as smart about race, class and money as "Trading Places."

"Get Hard" settles for the lowest common suppository.