Thursday, June 19, 2008

Get Smart: Dumb fun

Get Smart [PG-13]
Grade: C
Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp
Director: Peter Segal

Get Smart is dumb fun. It falls in the category of “better than it has any right being.” It’s a seemingly crummy idea, turning Mel Brooks’ sixties spy spoof show into a modern-day action comedy, but they made this sucker about as well as they could. The handful of big laughs pilots you through the merely smile-inducing. It’s the type of film that critics will hate to admit laughing at. Likely some will pretend that they didn’t.

Much of it relies on Steve Carell’s comic magnetism and masochism. Who else would you want to see bury blow darts into his face, like an adventure in acupuncture? Or eavesdrop on a Russian conversation in a Siberian loo between trickles? Or plant a big masculine moneymaker on The Rock? Carell plays Maxwell Smart as a brilliant office dweeb (huh?) turned inept emergency field agent – a spy-game idiot savant. There’s no bumbling that he can’t think his way out of. And no think his way out of that he can’t bumble back into again.

Get Smart is blatant Hollywood summer flubber, and subject to its most poisonous demands. It stumbles out of the gate as well as to the finish. It ends with a balls-out action piece that’s too eager to lose the comic tone found in the film’s earlier and better set pieces. In those, a strong one-upmanship chemistry exists between Carell and Anne Hathaway’s tomboyish expert, Agent 99. She’s the straight woman with a straight right. He’s the punch line and punching bag. The plot, a mission across Russia to flout a fiendish KAOS nuclear plot, stockpiles clever low humor like processed uranium. Even the eggheads get tossed a witty line about existentialism. Everyone gets a bone.

Hathaway drops her Hollywood good girl image for a more vulpine attitude, for once. Her tall, lean athleticism shouldn’t dim the Audrey Hepburn comparisons (I know, stand-ins account for some of it). The Rock as Max’s idol, the heart throb Agent 23, gets to do what the charming musclehead does best – comedy. One day, some enterprising filmmaker will write him the perfect supporting role, and we’ll be at risk of giving him an Oscar. Carell gets, and takes, a chance to erase some of the pungent memories of last year’s jillion-dollar nautical disaster, Evan Almighty. More humor. Less beard.

When you throw in a scene-stealing Alan Arkin (the plastic-swordfish-through-the-windshield gag from the last trailer really is piercing), this is a cast you would like to see in more fruitful material. Carell and Hathaway should do a Nick-and-Nora update, if just to enjoy the looks of horror on the faces of overly serious cineastes when they hear about it.

I suspect that Don Adams dead-enders will find things to nitpick. But they’ve been waiting for this film since the Tet Offensive. If you come into contact with someone telling you how brilliantly and satirically the show captures the sixties zeitgeist, slowly roll up the car window. They won’t attack unless provoked.

The best way to measure a film like Get Smart is by voting with your lips. I left with a dopey grin on my face. I suspect many of you will, too. It should last at least until the next mindless entertainment distraction.

1 comment:

patrick said...

Get Smart looks okay over all though it seems like Steve Carell is veering toward an excess of slapstick humor