Movie Reviews

Half-Ass Movie Review: Get Smart (Jun 24)

Most attempts to turn classic TV shows into movies fail horribly. It’s a dangerous proposition. It’s especially dicey when the original series was based around an iconic performance, like the original Get Smart. Don Adams was the show. Turning it into a movie is silly, quite frankly. But the equation changes significantly when Steve Carell is a factor.

Steve Carell is a funny man. I don’t think anybody’s going to argue that. He is funny man, and his performances are funny. He says funny things, and when saddled with a script that doesn’t give him funny things to say, he says those things in a way that makes them funny. This here is Carell Country, folks.

Get Smart is not a masterpiece, by any means. The plotting is sloppy, the action scenes aren’t exciting enough to be straight action and not funny enough to be comedy, and the emotional moments are sort of randomly assigned. Frankly, it would have been a disaster if not for the casting. The casting comes straight out of the Awesome-Tron 3000.

We’ll get to Steve Carell in a moment. Anne Hathaway is funny and likeable in Barbara Feldon’s old role as Agent 99. She doesn’t generally do comedy, but she holds her own with Carell. Dwayne Johnson presents an amusing twist on his usual persona. That guy got kind of funny. Alan Arkin as the Chief is great. He’s got this great air of irritation about him at all times, and I like to imagine that he and Carell are best friends after Little Miss Sunshine. James Caan plays a president who seems oddly familiar. Masi Oka (best known as Hiro) does a lot with a small role. Terry Crews and David Koechner are reliably funny in supporting parts. The villains include Ken Davitian (whose naked wrestling in Borat still scars my brain) and Terrence (“Kneel before Zod!”) Stamp. Patrick Warburton and Bill Murray each get a cameo, too. That’s a lot of funny people crammed into a movie. It’s almost like “Farm Aid” for struggling scripts. Only with comedians instead of musicians. Yeah, that was a stretch.

Steve Carell steps into some pretty big shoes (with phones inside, of course), taking over as Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart. The landscape is littered with comedians who’ve taken on remakes of classic comedic roles. Witness poor Steve Martin, whose considerable talents failed him when trying to invoke Peter Sellers and Phil Silvers. If Steve Martin can’t do it, it’s probably better not to try. And then along came Steve Carell, who absolutely nails it. Rather than mimic Adams’ delivery (except when delivering his catchphrases), he brings his own sensibility to it. Like 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Andy Stitzer, he’s a likeable dork. And like Michael Scott from The Office, he’s generally oblivious to how others perceive him. Heck, he even gets to kill a couple of people, like Brick Tamland.

Smart, at least in the movie, is an analyst for CONTROL. He desperately wants to be a field agent, but his talent lies behind a desk. It’s only when CONTROL is decimated by a rogue agent that Max gets to step into action. Paired with the deadly Agent 99, he has to track a terrorist group that’s importing uranium and possibly doing other things. Like I said, it’s a little sloppy. As near as I can determine, their plot involves putting Steve Carell into positions where he can do funny things. Very little of what they have to do actually makes any sense. Why do the agents have to parachute from a commercial airliner? So Steve can hilariously skewer himself multiple times with a tiny grappling hook in the lavatory. That kind of plot contortion should irritate me, but as I said, Carell is darned funny. I probably would have forgiven a scene where Maxwell Smart could breathe underwater, because it would be funny to see him running away from fish.

There are some nice invocations of the original series. Many of the original props turn up in a museum display, and if you couldn’t guess that at some point Max would use that retro shoe phone, then I feel sad for your inability to process pop culture. It’s OK, pumpkin. You’ll learn one day. Don Adams’ various catchphrases make their appearance, and they work surprisingly well. It turns out, Steve Carell can sell a “Missed it by that much.”

Final score:  A respectable three beans.

Honestly, this is a very hard movie to review. I know that it’s not, technically, very good. But I also know that I laughed throughout. That’s got to count for something. Sure, this many funny people could have done something glorious with a better script and fewer slapdash action sequences, but Carell trying to help Alan Arkin with phonetic Russian seems overrides any number of physics-challenged skydiving scenes or out of nowhere emotional revelations. It’s amazing how the casting alone takes the movie from “potential disaster” to “Hey, that was pretty funny”. Steve Carell loves you and will not betray your trust.

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