Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Terence Stamp, Ken Davitian, Dalip Singh, Dwayne Johnson, James Caan
Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
Who's it gonna be?
Maxwell Smart or Guru Pitka?
Are you rushing out this weekend to catch Mike Myers in yet another rehashed variation of his SNL characters?
Or will you rush out to see the always likable Steve Carell in yet further evidence of Hollywood's complete inability to come up with an original script these days with "Get Smart?"
The "smart" money would seem to be on Myers and his creatively marketed, goofily endearing and Justin Timberlake co-starring "The Love Guru."
While neither film is really as entertaining as one would hope from a summer comedy, the smart moviegoer will skip Myers' "The Love Guru" check out Carell's surprisingly entertaining take on the bumbling adventures of Maxwell Smart.
The adventures of Maxwell Smart have always taken a bit of a back seat to the more creative and inspired adventures of another bumbling detective, Inspector Clouseau. While Steve Martin was certainly an inspired choice for that recent retread, the effort itself left much to be desired largely owing to Martin's pale imitation of the original and the script's utter lack of originality.
"Get Smart" is different. While "Get Smart" lacks the outright lunacy of "The Pink Panther," Carell avoids imitation and instead creates a "Get Smart" that is part tribute and part reinvention of the Maxwell Smart adventures.
This Maxwell Smart is, in fact, a bit smarter than the Smart that Don Adams portrayed. While this Smart has the same knack for getting into bad situations, Carell plays him less like a fool more like an innocent. While this isn't particularly an acting stretch for Carell, it's a type of character he does well and Carell's fans should be happy with his effort here.
I entered this weekend's viewing with far different expectations. The trailers for "Get Smart" left me cold, and left me with the wrong impression...that this was going to be a mere retread of 40-year-old material.
It's not. While there's certainly no ground-breaking comedy in "Get Smart," it is a consistently funny, easygoing film in which a good 75-80% of the jokes elicit at least a chuckle if not a hearty laugh. While there aren't really any outright gutbusters, any comedy that can make you laugh 3/4 of the time is a winning comedy. If you throw in the fact that Steve Carell is infinitely likeable and Anne Hathaway, as his partner Agent 99, adds a nice emotional core to the film then you have the makings of a light comedy that works.
The story, while certainly not the focus here, centers initially on Smart, the best analyst for CONTROL, and his desire to become a field agent. His score on the field agent test is high enough, on his eighth try, but his chief (Alan Arkin) refuses to promote him because he can't afford to lose his best analyst.
In speedy fashion, the home base of CONTROL is compromised by KAOS operative Sigfried (Terence Stamp) and numerous agents are either lost or compromised. Smart is promoted, to Agent 86, and partnered with Agent 99.
I must admit that I'm even giggling as I write this...sure, it's completely silly. It's FUN silly, though.
Home support is provided by Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson), who has become a bit too known as an agent to work undercover.
Director Peter Segal, a Sandler veteran along with several other comedies, nicely blends the film's tributes to the 1960's original series with enough contemporary updates to keep it interesting.
"Get Smart" opens, for example, with credits rolling along just like those of the original television series, while several of Smart's trademark lines are incorporated into the script such as "Would you believe?" and "Missed it by THIS much." Those familiar with the original will chuckle, while it won't distract younger audiences unfamiliar with such trademarks.
Segal also dares to throw in a few references to contemporary politics, including at least a couple outright jabs at George W. Bush, including his penchant for reading children's books during terrorist attacks and his complete inability to pronounce the word "nuclear." While those of us who can't wait until November will find this hilarious, the scenes also do feel a tad forced and never really go anywhere.
Carell and Hathaway have a nice "buddy" chemistry, though one of the serious lackings for "Get Smart" would be the complete lack of romantic chemistry between the two. Segal wisely, however, avoids anything in the way of overtly romantic or sensual scenes as they clearly would have been awkward and forced. Instead, he focuses on their growing attraction through trust and intelligence. While it's not as funny, it's far more believable.
The script by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember ("Failure to Launch") is a solid blend of comic one-liners, physical slapstick, tributes to the original source and inside jokes including a reference to series co-creator Mel Brooks with a character named Nudnik Shpilkes. The relationship between Agent 86 and Agent 99 is given time to grow, and any temptation for over-emoting or a quick fling is wisely avoided.
While Carell hasn't quite attained an acting range that allows for much depth in his characters, the presence of Hathaway provides a perfect contrast to Maxwell Smart. While Agent 99 is certainly all business and martial arts action, Hathaway gives her just the right touch of an emotional storyline that makes it possible to not bond with her (pun intended).
The supporting cast, while a tad underwritten, fares well including Stamp as the penultimate bad guy, Ken Davitian ("Borat") as his right hand man, James Caan as the U.S. President and Alan Arkin as CONTROL's chief. As the agent who isn't quite what he seems, Dwayne Johnson continues his growth as an actor and moves yet another step away from his "The Rock" persona.
An easygoing blend of comedy, light romance and action, "Get Smart" is easily the better of this weekend's two wide-release comedies.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic