Movie Review – Get Smart
– Summary –
Director : Peter Segal
Year Of Release : 2008
Principal Cast : Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, Dalip Singh, Ken Davitian, Terry Crews, David Koechner, James Caan, Bill Murray, Patrick Warburton.
Approx Running Time : 110 Minutes
Synopsis: Agent Maxwell Smart teams up with Agent 99 to defeat the forces of CHAOS from controlling the world.
What we think : Devilishly funny film version of the classic 70’s television series, here fronted by an on-song Steve Carell, Get Smart is both fresh and reflective of its origins – a rare feat in modern Hollywood. With an accomplished cast (especially a fantastic Alan Arkin, who delivers one of the film’s best lines), Get Smart delivers laughs and fun without pause, and is a terrific entertainment bundle.
Fabulously entertaining comedy adventure film see’s TV hero Maxwell Smart make the transition to the big screen…. and as far as TV-to-movie remakes go, this is a Top Shelf Item.
Star of Evan Almighty, Steve Carell, plays Maxwell Smart, alongside Agent 99, portrayed by the stunning Anne Hathaway, two Control Agents trying to uncover a plot to blow up the world, or perhaps just Los Angeles.
Get Smart, the film, for those living under a rock since the 60’s, is based upon the television series created by comedy duo Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, which ran for 5 years between 1965 and 1969. The show made household names of it’s two principal leads, the late Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, and gorgeous Barbara Feldon as 99. Control, the fictional spy agency rivaling the CIA or FBI, is in a constant battle against the forces of Kaos, a KGB-like evil agency (spoofed by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers films) with designs for causing… well…. chaos.
The show has become legendary in reruns, the familiar catch-cry of the show being a pop-culture classic: “Missed it by that much!” Max would exclaim, after narrowly failing to achieve something. Ideas such as the Cone Of Silence, the Shoe-phone, and the “old X in the Y trick” statement have now become instantly recognizable facets of the show.
The original series attempted to create a feature length version, entitled The Nude Bomb, in 1980, a decade or so after the series ended it’s TV run. While perhaps not retaining much of the zest of the original show, fan’s applauded the return to the screen of the shows original cast.
Talk of a Get Smart remake had been floating around Hollywood for years, a big budget version was often mooted with the original cast coming back for another shot. With the death of star Don Adams in 2005, plans for the film were put on hold, until Steve Carell stepped up to bat.
In recent times, film remakes of old TV shows have been a little bit hit and miss, varying in their success both commercially and critically. However, this new version of Get Smart rises above mediocrity, thanks, in no small part, to the confidence and ability of it’s superior cast. The film relies less on slapstick and things falling on Maxwell as he “bumbles along” and more on dialogue, insane scenarios being played straight, and a general sense of fun.
The problem I had with a direct copy of the TV show being made into a film is simply that there is no way a competent agency like Control would let such an incompetent nincompoop like Maxwell Smart out on the street. It’s the kind of tone taken by Johnny English a few years back, and not even Rowan Atkinson’s best non-Mr Bean comic skill could save that wretched film. With this film, however, director Peter Segal (50 First Dates, The Longest Yard) has ensured that the cliches of the TV show don’t interfere with what a modern audience would expect to see. Carell plays Maxwell straight: he’s not an idiot, although he does get himself into some pretty insane situations. He tries hard, and has worked himself to the bone to pass his Spy Exam. While perhaps a little anally retentive at the start of the film, his character arc is such that by the time the film ends, he’s a lot more relaxed and less highly strung. Well, almost.
There are subtle (and not so subtle) nods to the original show, and many of the props for the show are seen in varying forms throughout the movie, yet the film manages to include these time-worn ideas in a new, fresh, and funny way. The Cone Of Silence, for example, is beautifully updated in the new film: and poor Max happens to still manage to screw it up…. the results are hilarious. The Shoe-phone even makes a return, in one of the better examples of it’s use we’ve seen. Max’s original opening credits walk through the doors in that incredibly long passageway is redone, with a subtle and humorous edge.
Anne Hathaway is wonderful as Max’s foil in 99, a beautiful agent whom Max obviously finds attractive (as do most, it must be said!) and attempts to woo almost on their first meeting. Some have criticized her age difference with Carell, although there is a scene in the film which plays on this and attempts to bridge the gap with one of the most twisted and brilliant scripted moments in the whole film. Hathaway is a lot more hands on than Feldon was in the original show, and the subtle reference to Feldon’s black bob-cut hairstyle is shown at a lavish party sequence.
The Chief, this time played by Alan Arkin, is nothing at all similar to Edward Platt’s original portrayal, and to be honest, I think the film works better for it. Arkin is a go-getter Chief, another physical character in a film that is surprisingly rambunctious and stunt-laden. Well, perhaps not laden with stunts, as that would indicate there’s nothing BUT stunts, but you get the idea.
What really surprised me with this film, however, is just how funny it is. And consistently funny, not all over the place like most comedy films out of the US are. The script is witty, genuinely so, and with a heart that cannot be faked no matter how hard people might try. The one-liners and small jabs by the cast are played utterly straight, with total respect for the original characters, yet becoming new and fresh at the same time. Carell and Arkin get the lions share of laughs, playing it straight and yet with a tremendous sense of comic timing. Arkin manages to deliver one of the film’s funniest comebacks, after a particularly brutal car chase through a golf driving range.
The script delivers the tried and true one-liners that made the original series work: the “missed it by that much” remark is put into the film, in a way that’s hardly cheesy for ill-gained laughs. There’s others scattered throughout for fans of the original series, but in each case, the throwback lines are given a twist that makes them seem less corny and more acceptable… if such a thing were possible.
Get Smart was, above all, a pleasant surprise. I had half expected it to be full of corny dialogue, oafish storyline and mediocre production value. What I got was a lot more than I had expected! The production values on this film rival any major action film release, the script is dynamite, the story, while perhaps a little cliched, is still humorous enough to carry the film, and the actors all play this one for keeps… nobody, not even Terrence Stamp, get to sleepwalk through this one. I felt the film was just long enough to really allow each character to develop, and short enough not to become bloated and boring. Trying to shoehorn in all the original shows’ ideas may have had a negative impact on the film overall, so they simply took the creme of the crop of all those ideas, gave them a spit and polish, and let rip for the modern audience.
This will rank as one of the funniest, most surprising action/comedies of 2008, for me. I loved it, and will happily sit through it a few more times to catch what I missed the first time round. Excellent entertainment.
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