Entries Comments

Get Smart Bludgeoned By Summer Excess

Get Smart
Directed by Peter Segal
Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember based on characters by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry
Warner Bros., 2008

There is a tendency in the TV adaptation game to make several kinds of mistakes. The first is to take the original concept and go annoyingly cheeky with it. Another way is to update the material with more whiz-bang action and “snappy” modern-day dialogue to the point that both are watered down: the effort to play to the audience is just too transparent. Get Smart is the latter.

There are scenes in movies that only happen in summer movies. They are what I call “normal people get caught up in the action” scenes. In the trailer for Get Smart, one such scene is advertised, with the little boy seeing Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) hanging on an airplane banner through traffic, and the boy yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” and the uninterested mother mocking, “Sean! Sean! Sean! Sean! See how annoying that is?!” Yes, it is. We’ve seen such scenes before in this summer’s Iron Man (a family in a car during the final battle), last year’s Transformers with the little girl watching a big robot coming out of the backyard pool, and in The Lost World with the dinosaur (also in the backyard) waking up a kid and again telling disbelieving parents.

I bring this kind of scene up because it is “summer excess.” You never find these kinds of scenes anywhere else. They are fluff that seem to mark the movie as a Big Event Picture. They are half-assed efforts to humanize the extravaganza. When a small, humorous television show gets blown up into a big action comedy, both genres are lost.

In Get Smart, Maxwell Smart is an analyst for CONTROL, a not-CIA secret agency that does a bunch of covert ops. He hopes to be an agent, much like Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) and Agent 99 (the blindingly fine Anne Hathaway). But meanwhile, he has to just be a big nerd along with friends Bruce (Heroes‘ Masi Oka) and Lloyd (Nate Torrence). One day, CONTROL is compromised and it loses much of its data team, and many agents are no longer safe, so the chief (Alan Arkin) promotes Smart to Agent 86 and partner with 99. They believe that terrorist group KAOS, headed by Siegfried (Terence Stamp) is behind it, so time to do some spy stuff. But the main problem seems to be that there’s a mole in their midst.

Of course, Smart is colossally incompetent, but not nearly as incompetent as I remember from the TV show. There has been some effort to give Maxwell Smart some dignity, where he’s kind of a boob but he has more what it takes to be an agent than you’d think. It’s a tough balancing act, and with the ramped-up action the comedy suffers from it. A lot of lines and situations pull up lame. Occasionally something funny comes up but those moments are scarce. I could have used a lot more Arkin, who has the movie’s funniest scenes, in particular a showdown with the Vice President that had me giggling.

I love Carell and he’s decent here, but it’s too much straight-face. His best scenes are when he has to emote and the trailer has a couple: the screaming for joy in “the cone of silence” and when he gives the slightest grin after saying, “Neither of us is dead so I’m obviously not from CONTROL.” And there’s a pretty funny dance scene in this, too. Had Carell been asked to do more like this, a lot of the lame pieces could have landed a better kick.

It’s not a horrible movie by any means but it could have been better. You know, the usual story.

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.