"Get Smart" gets some things right, but unfortunately it doesn’t get Smart right.
|‘GET SMART’ - In ‘Get Smart,’ would you believe Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart bouncing down a stairway in a vintage Sunbeam Alpine like the one Don Adams drove in the original 1960s TV show? Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, and based on the classic 60s TV series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, "Get Smart" features the intrepid agents of Control, led by Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), fighting the evil forces of Kaos as the latter attempt to hold the US hostage with nuclear blackmail.
As I said, "Get Smart" does get some things right – it does the supporting cast right (with top-flight actors like Alan Arkin as the Chief of Control and Terence Stamp as Siegfried, the head of Kaos), the action right (a thrilling scene with Smart hanging from a plane as he drops over a freeway) and even some of the jokes right (Smart defeats a bad guy not by beating him to a pulp, but by kissing him on the lips!).
But again, as I said, "Get Smart" doesn’t get Smart right. In the original TV show, Smart (played by the inimitable Don Adams) was an idiot savant along the lines of Frank Drebin and Inspector Clouseau, an incompetent spy who thought he was a great spy, a guy that stumbled into success despite himself (and with a little help from his true love, Agent 99, played by the fetching Barbara Feldon).
However, in his most recent movie incarnation, Smart is often competent and self-aware, making him the polar opposite of the 60s Smart. He is even a damn good fighter when it comes down to it, rivaling his more serious cousin, James Bond, in this regard. The 2008 Smart does bumble his way to victory sometimes, but not nearly as much as his predecessor. Unfortunately, this re-imagining of Smart makes him more generic than funny as a lead, which is a fatal flaw to any comedy.
My rule when it comes to comic characters is that they should be funny even when nothing funny is happening around them. In fact, they should be funny even if they’re just standing in an empty room. Charlie Chaplin’s the Tramp would still be funny in this scenario, as would Mike Myers’ Austin Powers.
But despite the game efforts of Carell, the 2008 Smart is simply too normal to be funny on his own. He needs wacky characters to bounce off of like Bill Murray’s agent-disguised-as-a-tree, or wacky situations to be a part of like being forced to dance with a very obese woman to get the attention of Agent 99 (now played by the fetching, but rather shrill, Anne Hathaway).
On the plus side, the 2008 Smart is certainly easier to relate to emotionally than Adams’ creation – Carell plays him as a sweet, endearing nerd. But this really doesn’t make up for the fact that the modern-day Smart is ultimately too bland to be the driving force behind a comedy.
One of the first rules of comedy is that character is comedy – that seems to be the first thing that the makers of "Get Smart" forgot.
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Tom McCurrie is a regular contributor to Hollywoodlitsales.com.