REVIEW: Get Smart [2008]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 110 minutes | Release Date: June 20th, 2008 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Peter Segal
Writer(s): Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember / Mel Brooks and Buck Henry (characters)

“Chuck Norris and a BB-gun”

It’s always nice to leave a theatre thinking how much better the film you just saw was compared to what you expected it to be going in. I’m not saying that the big screen version of Get Smart is a classic work of cinema history, but when you go in thinking that the overall piece will be boring, asinine, and a waste of time only to come out with a smile on your face knowing that you’ve been entertained for two hours: it is a good feeling. Admittedly, I have never seen the television show on which this is based, so I had no real preconceptions besides what I saw from the trailers. Watching them pitch this as a comedy of errors with a bumbling imbecile trying to save the world as a spy just made me think Austin Powers—only less funny in its attempts to be relevant. Thankfully, that is not what we get. The main character of Maxwell Smart is in actuality a very intelligent man who finds himself in abnormal situations. Maybe not the most socially savvy person around, he is not a moron. And even though he may stumble onto moments of brilliance, it is not all by chance since he positions himself in a place where success can occur. This film is just a good time at the theater, plain and simple.

The concept is a real overblown spy espionage send-up. When based on a show that Mel Brooks had a hand in, (he is a consultant here as well), you know it will be goofy. What we get is a secret government organization called CONTROL working behind the scenes to keep the world safe with an arsenal of experienced agents and technological savvy scientists creating the latest forms of gadgetry. It has been years since the crime syndicate/terrorist unit KAOS has been active and that time has made threats by them seem like a joke. They are disbanded so why waste the time and resources? Even after CONTROL is infiltrated and identities are released, the idiots in the White House and War Room, (a who’s who of B-list comedians having some fun with James Caan as the president), can’t believe it is the work of that archaic group. However, some still want to check and make sure. Since the agents have been compromised it is up to 99 (who has recently undergone full cosmetic plastic surgery) and 86 (Smart himself, newly promoted to the big show) as they’re not in the stolen database.

A contrived way to make sure that Steve Carell (Smart) and Anne Hathaway (99) get all the screentime being the only agents allowed to work in the public sphere, it does lead to some funny moments as this novice goes on his first mission with an experienced professional. Sure there is some overlong slapstick work—Carell in an airplane bathroom shooting mini-harpoons into his body for five minutes—but there are also some genuinely hilarious times to counter them. When the two agents partake in a dance-off at a traditional Russian party, you can’t help but laugh. The gimmick of how Carell has recently lost 150 pounds in order to become an agent comes into play here (along with numerous other times including a funny flashback scene) as he shows up Hathaway and her partner by cutting the rug with an obese woman who also recently lost 150 pounds. (Get it?) These two have some fun as they attempt to one up each other throughout, showing the gadgets they have for which the other does not and constantly surprising with what they are capable of doing. Unfortunately many instances do fall into the territory of joke gone on too long: escaping a room of laser trips gets tedious and Smart hanging from an airplane banner through traffic becomes too far-fetched.

When it works, though, this film can bring the laughs. Alan Arkin as head of CONTROL is great. His deadpan sarcasm is his bread-and-butter and is brought out perfectly here. Terence Stamp is so nonchalant in his insults and villainy that he succeeds in being more funny than menacing while he resurrects KAOS from the dead. And Dwayne Johnson brings some nice swagger to the role of top-dog at CONTROL and the envy of everyone. Most of the big laughs come from a rather extensive list of cameos, though. The best of these has to be Bill Murray’s short stint as Agent 13 and of course the great Patrick Warburton doing what he does. I won’t tell you who he plays, but will say that fans of the show should enjoy his inclusion (the benefit of going with someone who used to watch the TV series was having many of the inside jokes revealed).

While not a movie I would run out to see again anytime soon, Get Smart delivers on what it set out to do. It’s a film that has fun with itself and allows the audience to just sit back and enjoy the hijinks on display. Obvious jokes and sequences aside—if you have ever seen a spy film you will know what is coming every step of the way—there is enough to not treat this as a throwaway comedy like most that have come out this year. If the filmmakers did anything absolutely right it is the handling of Carell’s character. I feared this from the previews and should not have. His role really is the glue holding the entire movie together and it works the whole way through. This is not Michael Scott from “The Office” trying to be a spy. He realizes the luck he has and the stupidity he sometimes exudes, but he never gives up on himself in order to come through as the victor. It is a role that one can relate to and makes the film that much more enjoyable.

[1] Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 and Steve Carell stars as Maxwell Smart in Warner Bros Pictures’ Get Smart (2008). Photo by Tracy Bennett. Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] The Rock as Agent 23 in Warner Bros Pictures’ Get Smart (2008). Photo by Tracy Bennett. Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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