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Get Smart (2008)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Would You Believe. . .It Isn't That Bad?"
4 stars

The problem with trying to make a spoof of the James Bond movies is that, with maybe a couple of exceptions over the years, they have never exactly been known for taking the kind of somber and straightforward approach that usually inspired the best parodies--how can even the most inspired farceur possibly hope to mock a series that has already given us the likes of something as supremely silly as “Moonraker”? (One of the reasons that “Airplane!” was so successful is because it was making fun of a film genre--the all-star disaster epic--that never quite understood just how ridiculous it was until it finally descended into self-parody at the end of its cycle.) Nevertheless, from the moment that the Bond films became an international phenomenon after the release of “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger” in the early 1960’s, there have been countless attempts on both the big and small screens to poke fun at them with gaudy, goofy adventures that took themselves even less seriously than the originals, if such a thing was possible. Although a few of these pastiches have had their amusing moments--I’m thinking of the two “Our Man Flint” films with James Coburn, Mario Bava’s delirious “Danger: Diabolik” and certain parts of the bizarrely overstuffed Pop-Art campfest that was the 1967 version of “Casino Royale”--most of them have failed because they simply couldn’t match either the lavish production values or the inherent goofiness of the actual Bond films and they neglected to offer up anything else of value to compensate for these deficiencies.

One of the few Bond parodies to truly work in its own right was “Get Smart,” the popular 1965-1970 television sitcom that was co-created by emerging comedic icons Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Granted, the basic premise of the series--a self-serious and supremely klutzy Agent 86 Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) somehow defeating the forces of evil on a weekly basis despite his clueless bumbling with the aid of the adoring Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), a variety of weirdo devices (such as a shoe phone and the immortal Cone of Silence) and a catch-phrase for every occasion--was nothing to write home about and the production values hardly matched up to even the cheapest theatrical Bond knock-off, let alone one of the actual films. However, the joining together of Brooks’ broad, Catskills-inspired shtick with Henry’s sly satire of the post-Bay of Pigs CIA proved to be an inspired pairing and when it was combined with Adams equally ingenious take on the material--as he played him, Smart wasn’t so much an idiot as he was a competent and able agent who was cursed with an advanced case of tunnel vision in regard to his own abilities--it resulted in the kind of sitcom classic that is still amusing to watch in reruns more than four decades after it originally aired.

And because enough people have continued to watch those reruns over the past four decades, it was inevitable that someone would attempt to bring the show to the big screen. However, times have changed and that many of the elements that gave the show its freshness and vitality have gone by the wayside--the Cold War is long gone, the Borscht Belt style of humor has also faded from the cultural landscape, the blunders of the American intelligence community have become so commonplace that they are hardly even noticed anymore and even the James Bond movies have begun to take themselves a little more seriously than they used to in the past. The previous attempts to revive the “Get Smart” franchise for a new audience--the 1980 feature film “The Nude Bomb,” the 1989 TV movie “Get Smart, Again!” and a 1995 TV series--failed to recognize this and the results in each case were fairly disastrous and quickly forgotten. Having apparently learned a lesson or two from the mistakes of those who went before them, the makers of the new feature film version of “Get Smart” have stripped away any remaining vestige of these elements and have instead reconfigured the project as a broad-based action-comedy showcasing a lot of high-tech special effects, loads of goofy slapstick and funnyman Steve Carell working in the uber-nebbish mode that brought him enormous success on television in “The Office” and on the big screen in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Taking a page (or at least a bookmark) from “Casino Royale,” this “Get Smart” serves as a reboot of the entire franchise by showing how Maxwell Smart (Carell) became the celebrated Agent 86. This time around, Smart is a mid-level analyst at CONTROL (the “Smart” universe’s version of the CIA) who years to one day be a field agent like his mentor, the dashing and heroic Agent 23 (Dwayne “Whatever The Hell He Is Calling Himself This Time Around” Johnson). Alas, Smart is so good at is job--he can ferret out an endless amount of information based on nothing more than an enemy combatant’s breakfast order--and the information that he amasses in his mammoth reports is so valuable and taken so seriously by the leaders of our country (perhaps the first sign that this film is nothing more than a fantasy) that The Chief (Alan Arkin), his boss at CONTROL, refuses to promote him because he is too valuable an asset in his current position. That all changes when KAOS, the faux-KGB run by the nefarious Siegfried (Terrence Stamp) and right-hand lickspittle Starker (Ken Davitian), gets a hold of the names of all the CONTROL field agents and stages a series of attacks that kills most of them and forces the rest into hiding. As a result, The Chief makes Smart an agent and teams him up with the beautiful-but-deadly Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), whose well-timed plastic surgery means that her identity is still secret, to jet off to Russia in order to discover what KAOS is up to--something about the ransoming off of nuclear weapons or launch codes for same for billions of dollars, if I recall correctly--and to stop it in the nick of time. Of course, that proves to be relatively easy--the tricky thing for Smart is to somehow win over 99 both of a professional and personal basis. (In case you were wondering--yes, the screenplay does make an effort to explain the apparent age difference between the two in order to cut down on the potential “ick” factor of such a potential coupling and no, it doesn’t really help.)

Obviously, the plot of “Get Smart” is nonsense from start to finish and to its credit, the film pretty much recognizes that right from the get-go and essentially ignores it for a string of comedy set-pieces ranging from the inspired (a bizarre dance-off that develops between Smart and 99 while trying to pry some information out of a suspect) to the silly (Smart finds himself falling out of an airplane with handcuffs on his wrists and mini-harpoons in his face and feet but without a parachute on his back). Towards the end, however, the stunts and special effects begins to dominate the comedy--as this film once again proves, the line between normal, run-of-the-mill fireballs and explosions and fireballs and explosions with a satirical intent is so thin as to not exist at all--and the film threatens to become virtually indistinguishable from any other multiplex action extravaganza. As state-of-the-art eye candy goes, these scenes are okay--they are staged and executed effectively enough--but once the movie ends, you may find yourself asking, a la Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” Although the idea of seeing such a thing in a bug-budget studio tentpole film was highly unlikely, I wish that the screenplay had come up with villains and evil schemes that more closely hewed to the contemporary geopolitical situation instead of the fairly standard-issue threats on display here. You could argue that to do so would be to traffic in material that might not strike many viewers as inherently funny but remember, the original TV show was satirizing Cold War tensions less than three years after the Cuban missile crisis and people seemed to be able to deal with that without too many ill effects.

These are problems, to be sure, but they are the kind that generally don’t register until the end credits have run their course and you are already halfway to the parking lot, mostly because you will likely be too busy laughing to really take notice of them. Although “Get Smart” will not go down as anyone’s idea of a classic comedy by any stretch of the imagination, it does contain several big laughs, quite a few smaller ones and only a few elements that don’t work at all (chiefly the screenplay’s failure to give Terrence Stamp anything of real interest to do and an escape sequence that seems more interested in working Madonna’s “4 Minutes” into the narrative as a bit of corporate cross-promotion than in coming up with anything funny). Some of them are moments that are directly inspired by the original show (such as the discussions surrounding “the Hymie Project” and the way that Smart’s bluffing claims of massive backup are eventually reduced to “Would you believe Chuck Norris and a BB gun?”). Some of them are moments that just float in from out of nowhere and kind of blindside you., though I suspect that the gag involving a blow dart might have come off better if there hadn’t been a similar crowd-pleasing gag in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Some of them come from the celebrity cameos that crop up every now and then--unlike most such moments, the bits here work because the well-known bit players are funny and because they have actually been given funny material. (I knew of none of these appearances walking into the movie and if you would like to experience them in a similar state of blissful ignorance, I would suggest that you avoid the film’s IMDB page since the cast list cheerfully blows the lid on every single one of them.) Most of all, I enjoyed the performances from the two leads. While it must have been tempting to simple do a Don Adams impression throughout the film, Steve Carell offers up a variation on the character of Maxwell Smart that is more of an homage than an imitation while still managing to work in enough of his own comedic personality to put his own stamp on the role without turning it into something completely unrecognizable. As for Hathaway, who proved herself to be an inspired farceur in her own right in the better-than-they-had-to-be “Princess Diaries” movies and the underrated “Ella Enchanted,” it takes her a little while to settle into the peculiar rhythms of a blockbuster action-comedy but when she does, she more than holds her own amidst all the silliness (though it is likely that many will be too distracted by her va-va-voom appearance throughout to notice).

“Get Smart” is not a great movie by any means and I presume that the hard-core fans of the old show will likely be aghast at what has been done to it in order to turn it into a contemporary feature film. However, while it may not be particularly original or inspired, it does contain the one ingredient that has been largely missing from most American comedies of late--actual laughs--and it provides enough of those to make it worth a look. With any luck, it will prove to be successful enough to warrant a sequel and inspire everyone involved to really cut loose the second time around and come up with something even funnier.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17084&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/20/08 00:00:00
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TV to Screen: For more in the TV to Screen series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/05/18 morris campbell PRETTY GOOD IMHO 4 stars
9/18/12 Gabrielle Barnard This is one of my favorite movies! Action, romance, comedy. Anne H is amazing. 5 stars
8/12/09 Jeff Wilder Amusing albeit lightweight. 4 stars
5/19/09 art TERRIBLE! 1 stars
5/18/09 mary m This is one the whole family can enjoy. 4 stars
1/16/09 Aesop This was a fantastic film on its own, and a fitting homage as well. 4 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. steve carell is consistently awesome. 4 stars
12/21/08 KingNeutron Enjoyed it a lot more than I thought - great way to reboot the series! 5 stars
12/20/08 Shaun Wallner Hilarious Movie! 4 stars
11/30/08 Sam Some funny moments but not great .. 3 stars
7/27/08 Samantha Pruitt funnier than i thought it was going to be 4 stars
7/26/08 christy i loved it, hathaway and carell were pretty good :] 4 stars
7/19/08 Richard Perfect match - Carell / Max - sadly fizzles. 3 stars
7/14/08 Karen Great movie! Hilarious! 5 stars
7/10/08 L. Slusarczyk Just watching the previews gives you most of the good parts. 3 stars
7/07/08 mary m I really loved Steve C in this. He was perfect as a bumbling spy. 4 stars
7/05/08 Jayson Steve Carell's deadpan humor works brilliantly in this funny spoof. 4 stars
7/01/08 mr.mike Fans of the series and/or S. Carrell will like it. 4 stars
6/30/08 dougo Old, tired, seen before jokes and gags 1 stars
6/24/08 Mark R Very good, much better than the snob reviews. And I'm picky. 4 stars
6/23/08 Roscoe Dumbed down for todays American audience. Boring even if you have half a brain. 1 stars
6/23/08 Steve Miller I enjoyed it quite a bit. 4 stars
6/22/08 Obi Wan I was forced to go and actually laughed! Hathway & Carroll were good! 4 stars
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  20-Jun-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Nov-2008


  DVD: 04-Nov-2008

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