I did my formal review of this one for the next print issue of Impact, so I’ll keep the blog version short and sweet.
I had a really good time at Get Smart.
The classic television series created by comedy titans Mel Brooks and Buck Henry was a funny, witty spin on more serious spy fare like James Bond. Don Adams was the bumbling but endearing Maxwell Smart — aka Agent 86 — of the spy agency CONTROL, which battled the evil machinations of enemy agency KAOS. And while most of Max’s successes happened by happy accident, he got plenty of capable field assistance from smokin’ hot Agent 99, played by the gorgeous and capable Barbara Feldon.
It ran from 1965 to 1970, and in the following decades it spawned a theatrical movie, a TV reunion movie and even another TV series in which a married Max and 99 helped their spy son (played by Andy Dick) battle a new generation of KAOS. Adams also played the character in TV commercials for everything from White Castle to overseas automakers.
Given the recent spy resurgence thanks to the Bourne movies and Daniel Craig’s gritty Bond revamp, and given how the Get Smart brand has largely remained in the public eye in one form or another since its inception, and further given Hollywood’s ubiquitous remake fever, it’s only natural that Get Smart would be chosen for a big-screen relaunch.
And it works.
The makers of this thing were smart enough to cast the only guy capable of doing Maxwell Smart the kind of justice that the late, great Don Adams did:
Our good friend Steve Carell, who just signed on for three more seasons as Michael Scott on The Office, which we’ll start covering again upon its return this fall:
I’ll give you a few minutes to read that.
Back to it.
Carell’s comedic timing is legendary. He has the ability to remain entirely devoid of irony in even the most ridiculous situations, but then he can turn it around and hit you right in the heart with delirious sweetness or heartbreaking sadness when you least expect it. He hasn’t been in the public eye for as long as guys like Steve Martin or Bill Murray, but he’s already turning in performances on the level of those guys as an endearing leading man in films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Dan in Real Life. He brings heart, humor and perfection to everything he does.
So Carell’s Max is waiting on the results of the test that will finally take him away from his desk — where his reports clock in at hundreds of pages and bore his CONTROL co-workers to death — and into the field as full-fledged agent.
And Max does pass the test (on the eighth try), but The Chief (Alan Arkin) doesn’t give him the promotion because his work as an analyst is just too good to lose. It’s basically a case of, “We can’t give you the promotion because you do such good work.”
Max is crestfallen and begins to feel like a 40-something has-been who missed the big agent train. But meanwhile, across the globe, evil KAOS commander Seigfried (Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in Superman II among many other awesome roles) has discovered the identities of all of CONTROL’s agents and sets into motion a plan that kills most of them off.
Since Max is the only guy left to send in, he finally gets his agent status and is paired up with a reluctant Agent 99, played by the delectable (and deliciously voluptuous) Anne Hathaway and her nine-mile-long legs. (Given the goodwill she has with female audiences after The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada and given the physical dedication she shows here, I still think she’d be a very viable candidate for a future Wonder Woman film with the right physical training.)
The verbal gymnastics and smart sight gags in Get Smart provide frequent and consistent laughs, and director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy, 50 First Dates) proves just as adept at action as he is at comedy. Carell and Hathaway both get to do a lot of fun stunt work. But most impressive is the massive action sequence at the end, which starts on a crowded L.A. freeway, ends explosively in a rail yard, and involves a bridge, burning vehicles and an airplane. And it looks great. In fact, it looks infinitely superior to any of the lousy special effects in the much bigger-budgeted Hancock and blends digital graphics with real photographic elements so well that only the filmmakers will know what’s real and what isn’t. It’s really impressive.
Get Smart is funny and it has a lot of heart, thanks in no small part to another excellent leading-man turn from Steve Carell. Hathaway, for her part, is sexy and strong as Agent 99. She gives Catherine Zeta Jones a run for her money in an “evading lasers” sequence reminiscent of the one in Entrapment, but the Carell nearly one-ups both ladies with his own hilarious interpretation of how to get that particular job done.
The supporting cast is brilliant. You’ve got David Koechner (who plays the vile Todd Packer on The Office and was memorable as Champ “Whammy!” Kind in Anchorman) and Terry Crews (who was hilarious as President Camacho in Idiocracy) as the office bullies who demean Max every chance they get. Then you’ve got Masi Oka (from NBC’s Heroes) and Nate Torrence as Bruce and Lloyd, a pair of younger CONTROL technicians who worship the ground Max walks on because he’s so nice to them. (They even got their own spin-off movie, Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control, that’s available on DVD now.)
Alan Arkin is hilariously dry as The Chief. I love this guy. Especially his performance as the police chief in So I Married an Axe Murderer, who yells and uses racial slurs to try to be tough at the urging of Anthony LaPaglia’s cop character. Arkin even gets in on some of the action in Get Smart, which is a lot of fun to watch.
Terence Stamp can play vicious bad guys in his sleep, but brings plenty of menace and mean to Seigfried.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is hilarious and charismatic as Agent 23, the star agent of CONTROL. This guy truly has one of the greatest screen presences of any actor working today.
Indian actor Dalip Singh channels Richard Kiel’s Jaws from the old Bond flicks as an evil henchman with a heart of gold.
Bill Murray has a small role as Agent 13, and it’s definitely some vintage Murray material.
This is a fun movie that entertains with a good mix of comedy and a surprising helping of well-orchestrated action. If you don’t catch it on the big screen this crowded summer season, at least check it out on DVD.
And thank you, Steve Carell, for still wanting to be on The Office even though you could leave to be a leading man in the movies any time you wanted to.