, Etan Cohen's comedy about a white stockbroker who hires a black man to prepare him for a ten-year stretch in San Quentin, is like a spoon that's almost-but-not-yet sharpened into a shiv. With just a little more effort, it could kill.
The comedy isn't hunting Will Ferrell's ultra-rich James King, but another target: the privilege he represents. Like the tight-fisted conservatives in Congress, Ferrell's Harvard-educated silver-spooner is so blind to his own privilege that when his boss and father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) brags about founding their agency with only "me, my computer, and an $8 million loan from my father," he applauds.
Ferrell's idiocy doesn't work. But his decency does. Instead of playing King like a callous corporate villain, he's a well-meaning sap who sincerely believes he's a good person -- or, at least, certainly not a bigot. Mistaking car-washer Darnell (Kevin Hart) for a carjacker, he can't admit that it was because he's black, swearing that he'd have reacted the same if he were "rich or poor or white or... miscellaneous." Still, King is willing to pay Darnell $30,000 to teach him to act tough. The extra twist is that King can't tell that Darnell is a straight-arrow nerd. Darnell's wife (Edwina Findley Dickerson) is sure King will see through his thug act. But Darnell simply puts on a black skullcap and lets cultural assumptions take care of the rest. As befits their characters, Hart acts like a normal human, and Ferrell a cartoon.