by Mel Valentin
Directed by Peter Segal ("The Longest Yard," "50 First Dates," "Anger Management") from Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember’s screenplay, "Get Smart" is the big screen adaptation of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry’s TV series that ran from 1965-1970. As a spoof of the James Bond series and "The Man From U.N.K.L.E." that preceded it, "Get Smart" is fondly remembered for its mix of deft verbal humor with physical comedy. As a half-hour comedy, however, Brooks, Henry, and their writers didn’t have to worry about telling complex, convoluted plotlines, but including just enough story elements to reach the half hour mark. Stretching the "Get Smart" premise to the ninety-minute or two-hour mark, however, proved to be more difficult than either Segal or his screenwriters obviously anticipated. Luckily, Segal had Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, and a strong supporting cast (including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, seriously) to bail him out.Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), an analyst for CONTROL (a top-secret intelligence organization), dreams of becoming a field agent like his idol, Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). The top man at CONTROL, known only as the Chief The Chief (Alan Arkin), refuses to promote Smart, who he considers invaluable as a field agent. It’s until KAOS, the mirror opposite of CONTROL, attacks CONTROL and, as a result, compromises every field agent’s identity. Faced with an absence of good choices, the Chief decides to make Maxwell Smart a field agent. Newly dubbed Agent 86, Smart is paired up with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), back in the office after facial surgery. The Chief tasks Smart and Agent 99 with finding and stopping KAOS’ plan for world domination (involving “loose nukes” no less).
"Too much James Bond and not enough Maxwell Smart."
After getting outfitted for his first mission by a couple of lab techs, Bruce (Masi Oka) and Lloyd (Nate Torrence), Smart travels to Russia with Agent 99 to follow up on a lead. Narrowly escaping a confrontation with a seven-foot KAOS agent, Dalip (Dalip Singh), crash a high society party thrown by KAOS collaborator and weapons dealer Ladislas Krstic (David S. Lee). The trail eventually leads Smart and Agent 99 to KAOS’ leader, Siegfried (Terence Stamp), Siegfried’s second-in-command Shtarker (Borat’s Ken Davitian), and, eventually, a plot against the President of the United States (James Caan, weakly impersonating George W. Bush), in Los Angeles for a benefit concert.
For their action-first, comedy-second adaptation of the TV series, Segal and his screenwriters borrowed plot points and characters from other spy/action films, including the henchman character played by Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, the “loose nukes” idea from The Sum of All Fears, and a note-for-note set piece lifted from Mrs. and Mrs. Smith. Paying homage or referencing other genre films isn’t a problem, but when the basic premise of a bumbling field agent gives way to straight action minus the physical comedy and the verbal humor, then it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook Get Smart’s repeated, illogical tonal shifts (e.g., Smart goes from incompetent to hyper-competent, often in the same scene) while we wait for the next joke or callout to the TV series.
On one level, Segal deserves to be commended for wanting to avoid turning Get Smart into an all-spoof, all-the-time flick (e.g., the Airplane and Scary Movie franchises), but on another level, the long periods between jokes and gags leaves Get Smart feeling a derivative pastiche of James Bond and the countless imitators that followed the Bond franchise. By making the Maxwell Smart in the adaptation incapable of self-awareness (well, mostly) rather than a short-on-brains, long-on-heart klutz like the character from the TV series, Segal and his screenwriters neutered the original character and everything he represented. And that's not even taking into account the lazy, desperate jokes Segal and his screenwriters came up with (e.g., fat jokes, seriously?).Sure, moviegoers familiar with the TV series will smile at all the callbacks (e.g., the cone of silence, the shoe phone, the sliding doors, the phone booth, Agent 13, Hymie, and the catchphrases), but a few smiles and even fewer laughs, aren’t enough to kick-start a "Get Smart" franchise. Even a highly engaging cast can only do so much with underwritten material. Casting is really all "Get Smart" has going for it, from Steve Carell’s uptight, unselfconscious portrayal of Maxwell Smart, to Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the take-charge Agent 99 and on through Alan Arkin’s cantankerous Chief and Agent 23’s self absorption, ably handled by Dwayne Johnson, surprisingly adept at comedy.
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originally posted: 06/21/08 04:29:28