Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Movie review: Get Smart

By Rick Morris

Many of the reviews I have read thus far are not overly friendly to the new "Get Smart" movie. A consensus at Rotten Tomatoes among the multitude of reviews that have been collected there reveals an overall sense that the film underachieves somewhat, given the impressive cast, and that it just fails to live up to the old TV series on which it was based.

I couldn't disagree more.

I admit that I didn't approach the movie from a neutral perspective; I am a huge fan of Steve Carell and "The Office" and I expected to be entertained by him and the film. I was. I can't necessarily gauge how much my appreciation of Carell and his portrayal of Maxwell Scott may have positively prejudiced me towards the flick, but I think I would have enjoyed it nonetheless.

The casting was absolutely superb.

^ Anne Hathaway lived up to the spirit of the old Agent 99 and is a pulchritudinous treat for the male audience.

^ Dwayne Johnson (no longer "The Rock," apparently) really nailed the essence of super-spy Agent 23.

^ In a great casting twist, David Koechner -- whose Todd Packer character plays the bullying big brother-type to Carell's Michael Scott on "Office" -- plays a Packeresque obnoxious spy Larabee that is a thorn in Maxwell Smart's side. Terry Crews plays his buddy Agent 91 with the same zeal. The secret agents are portrayed as jock super-achievers who like to have fun at the expense of geeky analysts like Smart and the awesome tandem of Bruce and Lloyd.

^ Alan Arkin did a wonderful job as The Chief and evil nemesis Sigfried is brought to life in chilling fashion by Terrence Stamp.

^ Pro wrestler The Great Khali/Dalip Singh brings just the tiny bit of nuance needed to the role as bad guy assassin.

^ Even the bit parts were great with some outstanding actors knocking it out of the park. Patrick Warburton as new special agent Hymie, Bill Murray as needy special Agent 13, James Caan as the president (he will remind you of someone in particular) and Geoffrey Pierson as the vice president are all incredible.

In this movie, Carell is not assigned to play Smart with the bumbling fervor of Don Adams from the TV program, because that frankly would remind too many people of the over-the-top spirit of Michael Scott. Instead, Carell portrays Smart as a frustrated man approaching middle age, a bit geeky but a perfectionist at his job who does it better than anyone else -- so much so that The Chief doesn't think he can spare Smart for field work until the bad guys at KAOS manage to blow the cover of all of the agents. Enter the Smart/Agent 99 pairing, which flows well together. A somewhat dubious backstory about how Hathaway's Agent 99 was actually an older woman who was forced to get plastic surgery when her cover was blown is supposed to placate those who are grossed out by an older man/younger woman pairing. But is anyone really bothered by such a scenario in the first place? Not me.

Smart and 99 travel to Russia to try to thwart KAOS and their nuclear intentions and the movie ultimately climaxes with a final battle in Los Angeles to try to thwart a mushroom cloud from exploding over the city with the president in town. The movie progresses well, with comedy and action throughout. My FDH Lounge colleague Jon Adams characterized it as excellent summer movie escapism and I think it may even be better than that. It's a lot of fun and it did well in trying to translate the 1960s fascination with futuristic gadgets to a modern world -- and critics who want to compare it unfavorably to the original series should be mindful of that. When it comes to evaluating this movie, the haters "MISSED BY THAT MUCH!"


Pat R said...

Get Smart looks okay over all... but Steve Carell seems to be veering more and more toward not so funny slapstick humor

Rick Morris said...

Actually, Carell's character in this movie is way more toned-down than Michael Scott or some of his other recent characters. I do think that Carell and his brand of comedy are take-it-or-leave-it, though, and I think a lot of people would agree with your opinion about his humor.