Get Smart: more tepid TV nostalgia

by Glen Baity

Film adaptations of television shows don’t have to be bad. It’s just that they usually are. I’vesat through remakes of Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Lost in Space andStarsky and Hutch, among others, and still I’ve retained my optimism.Against all odds, I was hoping Get Smart would buck the trend. I’m aSteve Carell fan, and thought him perfectly suited for a modern-dayMaxwell Smart. And he is. It’s the material that lets him down. Thefilm is an update of the classic Mel Brooks-penned comedy series fromthe late ’60s. The title character, when we join him, is the topanalyst with Control, an elite government spy agency. Max is the bestin the organization at decoding terrorist chatter, but he dreams ofjoining the ranks of Control’s covert, James Bondesque fieldoperatives. This comes to pass when a data breach unmasks every Controlsecret agent currently at work around the world, meaning the brass hasto introduce fresh blood to keep from compromising the organization’sundercover operations. The culprits in this virtual caper arethe agents of Kaos, Control’s aptly-named nemesis organization withnuclear aspirations. That group has the notable advantage of being ledby Terrence Stamp, who is only one of many thoroughly likeable actorsinvolved with this project. Also aboard are Alan Arkin, Dwayne Johnson,James Caan, Patrick Warburton and Masi Oka of "Heroes." Smart -newly christened Agent 86 – is teamed with a reluctant Agent 99 (AnneHathaway), who aids him in his mission to bring down Kaos, which (ofcourse) wants to destroy the world. Or at least Los Angeles. Givingall these talents an open stage would have been the wise move, but thefilm holds them back with a mediocre script. Director Peter Segal (50First Dates) allows too many of his scenes to drag on a minute or twotoo long as the actors chase down long-winded, poorly-worded jokes.There’s a pretty common practice these days in which comedians are paidto "punch up" scripts, trimming the fat, rearranging scenes and doingrewrites to make the comedy really pop. Get Smart looks like itshould’ve been a prime candidate. Was Brooks ‘­- the man who gave theworld "Spaceballs: The Toilet Paper" – too busy to offer a few notes? Notto give the false impression that it’s all bad – it’s not, and the castis the main reason why. This is a group that knows how to deliver apunch line, so when the laughs hit, they can be quite funny (there’sone particularly brilliant cameo, which I won’t spoil, that involves anagent assigned to duty inside a tree). But the full-on howlers arerare, and if you can remember more than one or two of the gags a dayafter viewing, you’ve taken better notes than I have. Some of theaction sequences are carried out with gusto, but as the film presses ontoward the inevitable disconnect-the-bomb-before-it-destroys-LAconclusion, I’ll admit that my mind tended to wander. Thishappened quite a bit during this film, though I promise I tried my bestto pay attention. It’s all in the execution: Get Smart is a send-up ofspy movies, of course, but it’s perhaps the gentlest parody I’ve everseen, so tame it often feels less like a spirited lampooning and morelike a feeble imitation. It’s silly, sure, but ‘­- shoe phone or no shoephone – not silly enough to be a classic, nor to carry the mantle ofthe original.