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DVD Reviews for 6/20: A Not-So-Smart Bomb

by Peter Sobczynski

Sex, drugs, rock and roll and absurdly phallic bananas--just another week on the DVD beat.

When you consider the fact that it featured a man whose unshakable faith in technology and intricately designed and ingeniously executed plans was shaken on a weekly basis by one mistake after another, I guess it is somehow appropriate that the corporate synergy machine seems to have failed the classic spy spoof “Get Smart” this week. Normally, when a revamped version of a long-running TV show hits the big screen, the stores are swamped with DVDs of the original show, any spin-offs that might have cropped up in the ensuing years and virtually anything else with a connection tenuous enough to slap a sticker promoting said link on the front cover. However, the imminent release of the big-screen version of “Get Smart” hasn’t not inspired such a flood of material. Unless you bought the mammoth limited-edition set of the complete series by mail order when it was released by Time-Life Video last year, you will have to wait until August to pick up the first season set of the original show in order to revel in the glory that was watching Don Adams battling both the forces of evil and his own tendencies towards ineptitude. Oh sure, a DVD entitled “Get Smart: The Complete Series” did come out a couple of weeks ago but it merely contained the full run of a brief 1995 revival that aired on Fox for a couple of weeks in which Adams and wife Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) only put in token appearances and in which the focus was on their son, a clumsy would-be spy played by Andy Dick. As for “Get Smart Again,” a 1989 attempt to revive the franchise via a TV reunion movie, it apparently came out on a budget level a few years ago in a disc of reportedly poor quality. In fact, the only tie-in to appear on DVD this week is “The Nude Bomb,” a 1980 film that was the first attempt to bring the franchise to the big screen with Adams in his signature role. However, the fact that many of you reading this have probably never even heard of such a film before this very moment should give you an indication of just how successful it was at its chosen task.

The plot, for lack of a better term, kicks off when Smart is called back to work by his former agency (previously known as CONTROL and now inexplicably renamed PITS) when a madman announces that he will begin setting off bombs throughout the world unless he is paid a hefty ransom. However, these are no ordinary bombs that he is threatening to deploy--they are bombs that have the power to dissolve any clothing within the blast area and leave entire populations stark naked. After a couple of test explosions to demonstrate that the weapon is real, Smart sets off to track down the bomber on a journey that leads him all over the world--or at least to places on the Universal Studios backlot made up to look like places all over the world. Strangely, Agent 99 is nowhere to be seen here and her name isn’t even mentioned once--a little bit odd since her character wound up marrying Smart during the run of the show--and in order to make up for her absence, the film tosses in no fewer than three female agents. One is Agent 22 (Andrea Howard), a no-nonsense, by-the-book type who nevertheless finds herself swooning for Smart’s questionable charms. Another is Agent 35 (Pamela Hensley), a va-va-voom type whose main job seems to be to make Agent 22 jealous whenever the swooning begins. Finally, there is Agent 34 (Sylvia Kristel), who seems to exist only as a way of luring in unsuspecting viewers based on the combination of her name and reputation as one of the era’s leading sexbombs (thanks to the “Emmanuelle” series) and the words “Nude Bomb,” even though the PG rating would suggest that not much of value will occur in that regard.

That isn’t particularly shocking, but what is , what is the most surprising thing about “The Nude Bomb” is how incredibly cheap and tacky it is. Obviously, when a TV show makes the leap to the big screen, it means that the filmmakers can afford to give it a little more visual pizzazz and flee the confines of the studio for greener pastures, if such a thing is required by the script. In the case of this film, however, it seems as if someone in charge at Universal decided that since it was based on a TV show, it had to look like a TV show--either that or the studio had spent so much money on their other big tickets items for the summer of 1980, “The Blues Brothers“ and “Xanadu,” to be able to afford any location shooting for this particular production. As a result, even though the film takes place in locations all over the world, it is painfully obvious in virtually every scene that the entire thing was shot on studio soundstages at Universal that make for highly unconvincing substitutes. In fact, the film is so cheap that when it comes time for the big centerpiece chase scene, it is actually set on the Universal Studios backlot and finds our hero stumbling into the attractions promoting “Jaws” and the original “Battlestar Galactica.” Having never actually seen the film on the big screen before (like most of the world), I cannot imagine how it must have looked in that context but even within the smaller-scale confines of a television screen, it comes across less like an authentic feature and more like an ultra-cheap TV movie that was mistakenly given a theatrical release.

As you can probably guess, “The Nude Bomb” is an absolutely terrible movie in virtually every
regard. The combination of broad Borscht Belt-style shtick and sly political satire that made the original series so winning is nowhere to be found here (and this is as good a place as any to mention that neither Mel Brooks nor Buck Henry, the comedic geniuses who created the original show, had anything to do with this thing). Instead, they have been replaced by poorly staged sight gags, innuendo that is more smutty than silly and jokes that were on the moldy side back when Methuselah was playing Little League. When those elements run out, the film then resorts to repeating jokes and catch phrases from the original series and just to give you an idea of how quickly things run out, Smart is already using his infamous shoe phone and the immortal line “Would you believe. . .?” within the first five minutes. Sadly, not even the presence of Don Adams in his signature role can help save material this limp--he goes through the hackneyed material with all the enthusiasm and vigor of a Don Adams impersonator who has played his role for too long and who can no longer bring himself to say the same old lines with any feeling other than mild contempt.. (To be fair to Adams, I understand that he did not particularly want to do the film in the first place and pretty much hated the results). The result is a film so devoid of laughs that it feels as if the entire thing as been surrounded by the Cone of Silence.

Written by Bill Dana & Leonard B. Stern & Arne Sultan. Directed by Clive Donner. Starring Don Adams, Sylvia Kristel, Dana Elcar, Rhonda Fleming, Andrea Howard, Pamela Hensley, Norman Lloyd and Vittorio Gassman.

NEW AND NOTABLE

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (IFC Films. $29.98): Over the course of one long and grim night, a young woman living in Romania during the waning days of the Ceaucescu tries to procure an illegal abortion for a friend. Granted, this may be the least entertaining film that you slip into your DVD player this year (with the possible exception of “Meet the Spartans”) but it is one that you should slip in anyway because it is one of the most powerful social dramas to hit the big screen in a long time--so good, in fact, that it didn’t even make the shortlist for this year’s Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar.

BE KIND, REWIND (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): After inadvertently erasing the contents of the VHS-only video store where they work, Mos Def and Jack Black hit upon the idea of replacing them with their own home-made camcorder versions and wind up becoming neighborhood sensations as a result. The film is kind of a mess and demonstrates conclusively that director Michel Gondry is the kind of supreme visual stylist who really needs a strong screenwriter (a la Charlie Kaufman, with whom he worked on “Human Nature” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) to help him reign his ideas in. However, there are so many amusing visual bits on display (mostly the inspired ways in which our heroes recreate the likes of “Robocop” and “Ghostbusters”) that it is still worth a look for anyone in the mood for something off the beaten path.

BURN NOTICE--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): Although I tend to have very little patience for the aggressively quirky original TV shows from the USA network--I would like nothing more in this world than to see the creators of “Monk” and “Psych” plunged headfirst into a vat of flaming hyena vomit for all eternity--I will make an exception for this amusingly breezy show about a former CIA agent (Jeffrey Donovan) working as a private eye in Miami while trying to figure out why he was drummed out of the agency with the assistance of old pal Bruce Campbell and former flame Gabrielle Anwar.

CALIFORNICATION--SEASON ONE (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): Fans of caustic humor and Mr. Skin alike will want to snap up this set compiling the first 13 episodes of the popular Showtime comedy-drama about a best-selling author (David Duchovny) whose life has turned into a self-indulgent spiral of booze, drugs, sex and ill-advised truth-telling. Of course, he has a softer side as well--he dotes on his 13-year-old daughter and still pines for her mother (Natasha McElhone), an ex-girlfriend about to marry another guy. Of course, that softer side has a few wrinkles as well--one of his many conquests (Madeline Zima) turns out to be his rival’s 16-year-old daughter and she has a few tricks up her sleeve as well (not to mention a nasty right hook). Although it starts off fairly slow, the series does eventually settle into its groove and Duchovny’s extra-dry line readings are generally a treat.

THE CARMEN MIRANDA COLLECTION (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): Hollywood’s favorite living symbol of South American-style kitsch gets her box-set due with this five-disc set that includes reissues of “The Gang’s All Here” (1943) and “Doll Face” (1944) along with the new-to-DVD likes of “Greenwich Village” (1944), “Something For the Boys” (1944) and “If I’m Lucky” (1946). The must-see of the bunch is “The Gang’s All Here,” a bizarre and hugely entertaining wartime revue from director Busby Berkeley featuring eye-popping three-strip Technicolor and wildly over-the-top musical numbers such as the outrageous “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat,” a set-piece that originally ran into trouble with the censors because of its frank and graphic deployment of enormously phallic inflatable bananas. [br]

CLASSE TOUS RISQUES (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): After hiding in secret exile in Milan for over a decade, a Parisian gangland leader (Lino Ventura) slips back into France in order to see the children he left behind while avoiding the numerous former associates who would prefer to see him dead. Although this 1960 work from Claude Sautet was overlooked during its initial release (which came right as the French New Wave was first making headlines throughout the world), its reputation has grown considerably over the years and it is now generally regarded as one of the great French crime films of the Sixties.

FOOLS GOLD (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Apparently concerned that their previous teaming, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Dates,” just wasn’t crappy enough, Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey joined forces again for this absolutely execrable piece of romantic comedy crud in which they play a newly divorced couple who are thrown back together again on a search for buried treasure. Sure, the stars are attractive enough but whatever fun they had in bringing this useless mess to the big screen does not transfer to anyone unlucky enough to actually sit through it.

THE HUDSON BROTHERS RAZZLE-DAZZLE SHOW: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Video Service Corp. $29.98): Of course, if you are enough of a Kate Hudson fan to sit through the likes of “Fool’s Gold,” you might want to check out this oddball comedy-variety show featuring the music trio formed by her father, Bill Hudson, and his two brothers that was briefly popular in the mid-1970’s. I have only the vaguest memories of this show but I seem to recall that it was kind of like “The Banana Splits” without the goofy costumes.

JERICHO--THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): When this series about a small Midwestern town thrown into chaos in the wake of a mysterious nuclear event was cancelled at the end of the 2006-2007 season because of middling ratings, devoted fans inundated CBS with enough protest letters and peanuts (an in-joke reference) to cause the network to put it back on the schedule on the assumption that the publicity would bring in new viewers curious to see what the fuss was all about. Alas, those new viewers never came along when the show returned to the air earlier this year and it was once again cancelled, this time for good. Those who stuck with it throughout will want to pick up this two-disc set in order to collect the final seven episodes and bonus features as deleted scenes, audio commentaries and an alternate ending to the final episode.

JOY DIVISION (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $22.95): If the abrupt ending of the Ian Curtis biopic “Control” left you hanging, you might want to check out this 2007 documentary about the seminal British New Wave band that he led into eternal mixtape heaven with the classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” While those unfamiliar with the group may walk away from the film wondering what all the fuss was about, devoted fans will likely eat it up, if only for the glimpses of rare performance footage.

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2: (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although Disney has done plenty of sleazy and underhanded things over the years in the eternal quest to make money, few have been as shameful, egregious and detrimental to their good name as their recently discontinued practice of producing cheap-jack “sequels” to their beloved animated classics on the assumption that several million families will pick up any animated film featuring their brand name to serve as an instant babysitter for the kids without caring a whit as to its quality. One of the most shameful (mostly because it actually received a theatrical release instead of heading straight to the stores) was this needless 2003 continuation to their 1967 favorite. In this one, a now-civilized Mowgli (Haley Joel Osment) runs away from home and heads back into the jungle to see old pal Baloo (John Goodman), not realizing that the nasty tiger Shere Khan is also back and looking for payback. This film is totally useless--the characters are completely unengaging, the visuals are drab, the songs are garbage and the storyline is so threadbare that it only makes it to a barely feature-length 72 minutes by having the characters break into reprises of “The Bare Necessities” seemingly in every reel.

ON THE DOLL Peace Arch. $28.99): Nope, this is not a slightly randier take on the charming “Lars and the Real Girl.” This is actually a vaguely seamy and fairly unpleasant direct-to-video effort that shows the dark side of the sex industry through the eyes of the exploiters and the exploited. For most viewers, the high or low point of the film (depending on your point-of-view) will come when call girl Brittany Snow performs her specialty act--I won’t go into details (although I believe that you can find it by scrounging around on YouTube) but I will say that if she is looking for a catchy name for this trick, she could easily call it the “Sex and the City.”

POPEYE THE SAILOR: VOLUME 2, 1938-1940 (Warner Home Video. $34.98): Although this follow-up to last year’s highly acclaimed DVD set of the first 60 cartoons featuring everyone’s favorite squinty-eyed, spinach-scarfing sailor is only half the size of the first installment (Volume 3 is already tentatively set for release later this year), that doesn’t mean that Warners half-assed this collection. Besides offering another 30 of the often-brilliant shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studios (including the eye-poppin color two-reeler “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp”), the set also includes various short featurettes focusing on some of the ancillary characters, “Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story,” an informative feature-length documentary on the Fleischer Studios that was made for American Movie Classics back in the days when it was a channel worth watching, art galleries, a vintage audio interview with Jack Mercer (the one-time voice of Popeye), audio commentaries from contemporary animation experts and even an old “Superman” cartoon produced by Fleischer during this time that is still a pretty impressive sight to see nearly 70 years after its initial release.

RAILS AND TIES (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Alison Eastwood, daughter of you-know-who, makes her directorial debut with this turgid drama about an emotionally reticent train engineer (Kevin Bacon) who kills a woman who deliberately parked her car on the tracks and then winds up taking in the dead woman’s son, who was in the car but managed to escape in time, at the insistence of his wife (Marcia Gay Harden), who is suffering from terminal cancer. Although Bacon turns in a good and understated performance, the film itself is a turgid melodrama that is never remotely believable for a second and it quickly becomes apparent that if it weren’t for the director’s familial connections, it probably never would have gotten even the token theatrical release that it received last fall.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH--THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): Smart, funny and adorable as all get out--could someone please explain to me once again why it is that Melissa Joan Hart isn’t the top-shelf star that she clearly deserves to be? While I’m waiting, I’ll be sitting back and watching this latest collection of episodes from the long-running sitcom adaptation of the comic book about a seemingly ordinary girl coping with the magical powers she received on her 16th birthday while navigating the equally bizarre world of high school.

THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK & CODY: LIP-SYNCHING IN THE RAIN (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): Disney goes meta in one of the four episodes of the popular kiddie series about a pair of adorable twin brothers (Cole and Dylan Sprouse, a long way away from their work in “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things”) running amok in a posh Boston hotel alongside spoiled heiress Brenda Strong and counter girl Ashley Tisdale (still sporting her original nose). In it, the gang decides to put on a production of “High School Musical” but Tisdale--who, of course, played the scheming Sharpay in those films--gets rejected for the part despite her obvious talent in favor of the talent-poor, cash-rich Strong. Okay, maybe it isn’t exactly as complex as your typical Charlie Kaufman joint but as shameless corporate self-promotions go, it isn’t that bad.

SUPER HIGH ME (Universal Home Entertainment. $24.98): As you can probably surmise from the title, a play on Morgan Spurlock’s muckracking documentary “Super Size Me,” this film follows stand-up comedian/stoner Doug Benson as he explore the true effects of marijuana on the human body by giving it up completely for 30 days and then ingesting Tommy Chong-levels of the stuff for another 30-day stretch. BTW, if you happen to know Cinematical film critic Kim Voynar, ask her sometime to do her impression of my eFilmcritic colleague Erik Childress watching this movie when it played at the SXSW festival earlier this year. (Granted, this will only be funny if you know Childress as well but if you do, I promise you that it is absolutely hysterical.)

THE SWORD IN THE STONE--45th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although not generally regarded as one of the great animated works from Walt Disney--at the time it was being made, he had begun shifting his focus away from animation to live-action films and television as well as his theme parks--this riff on the Camelot legend (in which a young boy is befriended by Merlin the Magician and grows up to be King Arthur) has actually held up pretty well over the years, especially the climactic battle between Merlin and the evil sorceress Madam Mim. Little kids will like it a lot and adults will find it slightly more tolerable than most of the animated features hitting theaters these days.

TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED: TRANSFORM AND ROLL OUT (Paramount Home Video. $16.99): After spending 50 years in suspended animation at the bottom of Lake Erie, the heroic Autobots awaken in order to protect 22nd-century Detroit from an onslaught of Decepticons looking to once again uncover the all-powerful Allspark in this “movie” consisting of three spliced-together episodes of the TV series. Compared to last year’s big-screen blockbuster, this is a mixed bag indeed--on the one hand, the TV-scale animation means that there is none of the eye candy that was supplied by Megan Fox. On the other hand, this 66-minute DVD is nearly 90 minutes shorter than the excruciating feature film.

WELCOME HOME, ROSCOE JENKINS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): 2008 has already seen the release of two films top-lining Martin Lawrence and I am almost proud to say that for various reasons, I haven’t seen either of them. In this one, he plays a successful talk show host who goes back home for his parents’ golden anniversary celebration and finds himself surrounded by wacky relatives played by the likes of Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps and the redoubtable Mo’Nique. As I said, I haven’t quite gotten around to watching this one yet but Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel would like you to know that it contains “over-the-top hilarity.” [br]


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2507
originally posted: 06/20/08 05:09:20
last updated: 06/20/08 10:16:35
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