Get Smart: Film Review

Directed by: Peter Segal, Runtime: 110 minutes
Grade: B-

Get Smart is a silly, absurdly goofy action comedy that's a shameless parody of a parody -- and I couldn't have had a better time with it. Normally screwball comedies prancing around with an over-saturation of paradoxical humor just don't do it for me, but the formula concocted with subtle throwbacks, new comedic timing, and legitimately engaging action sequences entertained with the best of its summer blockbuster counterparts. It's a far cry from being an ideal, non-stop adaptation of its more culturally "significant" predecessor -- a television show that alleviated America's Cold War suspicions and fears by poking and prodding at James Bond debonair slickness -- but it makes certain to capture the same nonsensical essence of Get Smart's interworking by feeding off of pure charisma for its attitude.

As to be expected, Get Smart powers forward on the steam of its charismatic cast and not the material from its light, airy adapted script. At the center is Steve Carell ("The Office") as Maxwell Smart, a bookworm-ish agent for CONTROL that has the smarts but lacks the gusto for being a field agent. He writes 600+ page reports of hackneyed missions and suffers from the ridicule splashing from his co-workers, while also swimming in the shadow of the organization's star agent -- Agent 23, played just about perfectly from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Southland Tales). Carell's brand of humor almost seems specially crafted for this flavor, all hoity-toity nonsense and jaded aspiration from a not-so-dapper Dan. In that, he adds his own dashes to Maxwell Smart, while also taking a few ingredients from Don Adams' facial mannerisms and lively eyes to at least give a steady trickle of influence from the original. Just imagine if a dialed-down version Michael Scott and a detached 40-Year-Old Virgin Andy mashed together and wanted to be a superspy: that's Carell's Max.

Get Smart's plot practically screams its intentions from the trailers, as you can probably guess: tension has mounted within CONTROL, terrorist organization KAOS (yang to CONTROL's yin) has started doing ... something with radical explosives, and ole' Maxwell Smart gets his chance to prove himself as the espionage hero he's always aspired to be. But he won't be alone; he hooks up with the minx-y rogue Agent 99, a role with which Anne Hathaway (Brokeback Mountain) gets the chance to prove her semi-lead chops by rustling up charisma, sauciness, and a penchant for sly humor -- and she nails it, much to my delight. She's a lot of fun to watch but, much like Carell and the rest of the supporting cast, you rarely get wrapped up in the story to a degree where you drop the actor-character connections. But that never really matters, much the way it doesn't with the likes of the sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest or in Alex Payne's deadpan satire Election. It's a matter of acceptance, and a lot of humor begins to spill from the seams once that point is reached.

Based off of the '60s spy spoof starring Don Adams, Get Smart acts more as a lengthy throwback sketch with quick, rambling quip-style writing than a tangible satire of current espionage concepts. It ignores the chance to stab at many of the recent spy film mannerisms a la Casino Royale and Bourne Ultimatum that might be rife for the riffing, though it does borrow a bit from their aesthetics -- like Greengrass' shaky-cam movement -- to create the ambiance ripe for its silliness. Of course, something that probably sat in the back of the producer's minds was a firm ideal that they didn't want to throw together a mockery of the recent money-making flicks a la Epic Movie or Date Movie, especially when they're working with a sizeable budget. Many a Get Smart fan probably thank them for not going too far with their digs and pokes, yet I'd have a difficult time seeing much of a direct connection between affection for the Brooks-Henry '60s TV series and Peter Segal's rehash.

Aside from the CONTROL name, oversight from the Chief (Alan Arkin, Gattaca), and a few scattered relics across the film -- including quick cameos of the original Cone of Silence and shoe phone, as well as a modernized rendition of the theme song -- that's about all the direct Get Smart-ness available for plain sight, which is plenty. However, there's a host of goofy new contraptions that Max gets to fiddle around with that, much like Get Smart's paradoxical reflection on James Bond tools, are hit-and-miss in delivering the funny. Maybe it's because of the obnoxious Bruce and Lloyd duo, played by Masi Oka of "Heroes" fame and Nate Torrence, but the introduction of the new Cone of Silence falls very, very flat early in the film. However, when Max gets a hold of a multifaceted, high-gadgetry pocket knife and starts to put it to "practical" use in an airline bathroom stall, there's both reflective and fresh situational/slapstick humor to be found. A lot of it, actually, as that particular scene served up the film's first noteworthy laughs.

Instead, Get Smart's overstuffed paint-by-numbers spy rhythm becomes an indulgence -- an imperfect, slippery, touch-and-go indulgence that has more charisma than acuity, more charm than proficiency. But, most importantly, it's a lot of fun and a lot more comical and explosive than planned. There's a scene in particular involving lasers, tuxedoes, motion-sensors, an agile Hathaway, and a half-clumsy, half-graceful Carell that becomes a picture-perfect of Get Smart's artillery. It becomes all about the banter between the two, watching Agent 99 worm in and out of situations with the upmost suaveness as a legit spy, and soaking in Smart aka Agent 86 stumble over similar scenarios with about as much enduring poise as a drunken party boy waltzing through a room full of bear traps. This becomes Carell's foray into a summer blockbuster that's pure slapstick, never ingenious, and almost always entertaining to at least a few dials in the right direction. In short, Get Smart stays pretty darn stupid, but it has a blast in relishing in all the inanely-comedic, boisterous action-infused lunacy -- which, with popcorn and soda in hand, makes for a uncomplicated and romping good time.


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