Thursday, March 11, 2010

Archive: 'Get Smart'

Movie Review
Get Smart (2008)

I would never expect to find Steve Carell in an action flick, but here he is reprising the role of Maxwell Smart, who was played by comedian Don Adams in the original 60s TV spy spoof sitcom. "Get Smart" succeeds in being a TV-to-movie transition because the filmmakers have created stand-alone solid entertainment rather than fully focusing on being faithful to the source material. It's not so much a remake or a replication of the original series than it is an homage. And even more importantly, it's the pitch-perfect casting that makes it work the way it does. The screen is filled with likable characters thanks to an excellent mix of supporting actors who do a superb job of working off each other's comic timing while surrounding the hilarious Carell. Together they create something that is engagingly quick and clever.

Steve Carell's portrayal of Maxwell Smart is just about perfect. He's bumbling yet confident and absolutely nails the deadpan humor. This guy does the most hilarious things effortlessly and keeps a straight face while doing so, making it all the funnier. It's only fitting that there's a cameo by the other king of deadpan, Bill Murray, as Agent 13 who always has to hide in ridiculously uncomfortable places. There's also Anne Hathaway, who's right by Maxwell's side as the sexy Agent 99, and she has a cool aura about her that blows away all of her other goody-goody roles. Her demanding presence is a delightful surprise. And the two of them also have a sweet and convincing chemistry as they play off one another. Other players include Alan Arkin as the snarky Chief and Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as "The Rock") as Agent 23 who each holds their own.

Maxwell Smart is an expert analyst for a U.S. secret agency named CONTROL. His job is to overhear and decipher conversations involving agents of KAOS, the agency's Russian enemy and counterpart. The story involves CONTROL getting compromised by a villainous man named Siegfried (Terrence Stamp). Desperate for agents, Smart is, to his own disbelief, promoted to a field agent and teams up with Agent 99 to take down the bad guys. The plot really is, well, not really existent, and instead, is a setup for action sequences infused with physical comedy. It has something to do with KONTROL getting their hands on some nuclear weapons within a bakery and a bomb threat in Disney World during a concert for the president.

Every action and chase sequence scattered throughout the movie is accented with moments of humor, which keeps the tone cheerful and whimsical. The movie is a winning combination of thrills and hilarity, and what's best is that both halves work. It's all purposely silly to match that of the original TV show, but even for its own sake the silliness works. And these aren't phony, fake-looking action sequences, either. The production values are all still there, and great attention has been paid to all of the action. There's one climactic scene in particular that involves a plane, a speeding SUV on a highway, a large banner, and a train. No sacrifice has been made to compensate for the addition of laughs. So, it's good, too, that the movie is frequently very funny no matter if it's an all-out belly laugh or just a smirk on your face.

"Get Smart" has plenty of references to the original TV show including the not quite ready for James Bond gadgets, the cone of silence, and the shoe phone. Carell also delivers some of Max's original lines such as, "I missed it by this much!" The opening sequence, as well, replicates the show's opening credits with a series of never ending large metal security doors that Max has to walk through ending in the phone booth that takes him to the CONTROL headquarters. For once, this is a TV series-based movie that rewards nostalgia without ever really demanding it from its viewers. While paying tribute, it's also just a lot of fun on its own terms. And, while not perfect, as goofy summer entertainment goes, it's ideal.

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