GET SMART (Dir. Peter Segal, 2008)
It’s not a bad idea to resurrect the character of Maxwell Smart - the bumbling Agent 86 of CONTROL immortalized by the late Don Adams in the 60’s sitcom Get Smart - but it is remarkably uninspired to bring him back just to be the makeshift hero of yet another ginormous action movie formula.
Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry (who are credited as consultants here) Get Smart was a James Bond satire pitting the CIA stand-in CONTROL against the faux KGB - KOAS. In the 4 decades since the 007 series debuted many movies and TV shows have mocked the immortal spy and the aging original has even taken shots at itself.
But the act of satirizing or spoofing isn’t really on display here because for all of its use of the original character names, the updating of ridiculous accessories like the shoe phone and the cones of silence this is a standard comic adventure film with no points to make about the genre and precious few laughs to get us through the generic expensive CGI-ladened chase and fight scenes.
Steve Carrell stated explicitly that he would not be doing an impression of Don Adams, which is commendable but after seeing how little new he brings to that character maybe he should have. Without Adams' affectations classic lines like “Sorry about that Chief”, “missed it by that much”, and “would you believe...?” all fall flat.
Carrell is basically just doing a slight variation on his Michael Scott from The Office so it’s hard to go along with him assuming this iconic role. Anne Hathaway, looking like she's in a magazine shoot in every shot, as the lady sidekick and love interest does little to erase memories of Barbara Feldon.
Alan Arkin as The Chief and Terrence Stamp as the villain Siegfried fare better but expose how little wit is in the script. The less said about Dwayne Johnson as Agent 23 the better and James Caan as The President in what amounts to a cameo just lounges around looking bored.
The by-the-numbers plot is one of the most uninteresting I’ve seen in a long time with a climax lifted straight from the 1978 Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn caper FOUL PLAY and if you don't guess who in CONTROL is really an evil double agent within the first 10 minutes then you were more successful at turning your brain off when entering the theater than I was.
GET SMART feels less like a genuine movie than a polished product with its multiple Subway Sandwich tie-ins, slick designer sequences, and the end credits pop song placement of Madonna and Justin Timberlake’s “4 Miuntes To Save The World”. There are some snickers here and there and it moves fast so I’m sure many (especially kids) will enjoy it as a big dumb disposable summer movie but I believe many more will be unimpressed.
I like Steve Carrell and I’m happy to live in a world where an ex-Daily Show correspondent can become an A-list movie star but I hope he can pick less overtly commercial vehicles than this or last years tepid EVAN ALMIGHTY in the future.
Quite a few critics have pointed out that there was already a big screen Maxwell Smart movie in 1980 which I remember seeing in the theater as a kid - THE NUDE BOMB. It was also over-the-top and contained many similar scenes to the current incarnation - like the sky-diving bit for one.
It also had Don Adams reprising his iconic role (he played Smart again in 1989 for a TV movie then in 1995 for a short-lived show on Fox - neither of which I’ve seen) and while it was no comedy classic it was at least as good or as memorable than this. And since THE NUDE BOMB flopped and stands with a 14% rating on the Rottentomatometer that’s saying a lot.