Saturday, July 12, 2008

Get Smart (2008, Peter Segal)

(Originally written for a work newsletter)

Popular TV secret agent Maxwell Smart makes the jump to the big screen in Get Smart, starring Steve Carell in the role immortalized on television by Don Adams. The movie is entertaining, but it’s also an uneasy mix of silly comedy and slam-bang action that doesn’t always work. Part of the problem may be the summer release date, a time when the movie has to compete with mega-budgeted spectaculars, causing the filmmakers to inject special effects and action scenes in order to keep up. However, the action almost always gets in the way of the funny stuff, causing the movie to drag in spots. This is especially true near the end of the movie, when Max and his partner Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) are called upon to save the world. Whereas an out-and-out comedy like The Naked Gun took its climactic scenes to almost surreal extremes to uproarious ends, Get Smart plays its plotline fairly straight. As a result, the movie never quite pays off as it should.

That said, a lot of the movie is pretty funny, in an agreeably silly vein similar to that of the original series. Hathaway has little to do but play straight (wo)man to Carell and look great, both of which she does fairly well. Terence Stamp’s super-villain is a bit of a bust, a victim of the filmmakers’ unwillingness to give him anything funny to do. However, other supporting cast members make more of an impression, especially Dwayne Johnson as the hotshot Agent 23, and the ever-priceless Alan Arkin as the unflappable Chief. But it’s Carell who owns the movie, mostly by treating the role of Max as an engaging character rather than simply a schtick. Carell may be the most talented actor among the current crop of funnymen, and he’s quite good here, resisting the urge to mug for the camera like, say, Steve Martin in the Pink Panther remake. Carell gives an honest-to-goodness performance here, turning what it other hands might have simply been a bumbling idiot into a kind of everyman who always means well, even when the results are disastrous. Max made me laugh, but I also genuinely liked the guy, and as a result I liked GET SMART enough to make me wish it had been better than it actually was. As Max himself would say, “missed it byyyyyyyy… that much.”

Rating: 5 out of 10.

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