world grown almost as paranoid as at the height of the Cold
War, the time is absolutely right for a character like Maxwell
Smart. The first time around, creators Mel Brooks and Buck
Henry teamed with Don Adams to lampoon the CIA while pretending
to be James Bond. Let's just say that in 2008, Director
Peter Segal missed it by that much.
Actually, he really does come close. It's
just that the new Get Smart can't quite decide what
it wants to do and be. Segal keeps it moving forward, and
hits a lot of great moments. Maxwell Smart and Agent 99
travel all over the world, sometimes developing as characters
and making us laugh a lot. But they also seem to be traveling
between two different types of movies.
Part of the problem is that instead of
just diving into this world, Segal and his credited screenwriters
Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember treat this as an origin story.
When we meet Smart (Steve Carell), he has spent most of
his career as an analyst for CONTROL, a supposedly disbanded
spy organization standing against (literally) the forces
Though plodding as an analyst, Smart is
also extremely brilliant at connecting the dots with his
information. Even though he has rigorously trained his body,
losing over 150 pounds, he shouldn't become a field agent
because the Chief (Alan Arkin) needs him analyzing.
That is until the subterranean headquarters
of CONTROL are destroyed. Someone on the inside has leaked
the identities of all of their field agents, so no one can
stop Siegfried (Terence Stamp) of KAOS in his latest diabolical
scheme. A new field agent has to be commissioned, and that's
Smart. Accompanying him, against her own wishes, is the
beautiful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), who has herself recently
had plastic surgery so no one would be able to identify
Since the television show inhabited its
own loony world, Segal wants to keep that tone. Many characters
from the series get updated, including a surprise cameo
from the perpetually disguised Agent 13. The movie also
introduces two new goofy scientists, Bruce (Masi Oka) and
Lloyd (Nate Torrence), whose attitudes, at least, would
have fit in the first incarnation.
But Segal also wants to tweak Bourne and
Bond, acknowledging certain real world elements. While some
characters are meant to be comedic, Stamp is forced to be
a stoic and truly menacing villain, though he does have
a lame sidekick in Shtarker (Ken Davitian, whose presence
must mean they hope everybody laughs because it's that guy
from Borat). Contrast that to the one original cast
cameo - the original Siegfried, Bernie Kopell, shows up
doing his character, even if it's not named.
CONTROL has imposing looking agents, obviously
far more competent than Smart. Case in point, the ridiculously
heroic-looking Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson), who roots for
Max to get a promotion and buddies up for reasons that never
That becomes the plot's big problem. The
script keeps hinting at motivations to deepen these characters,
but never resolves them. At one point, Agent 99 has serious
moments that go nowhere, except at best to awkwardly demonstrate
that Smart has gotten past her tough exterior - not because
he's a great agent, but because he is a sensitive tender
These roads to nowhere are so egregious
that when the traitor gets exposed, Segal just makes things
really noisy in hopes we won't notice that an explanation
is never really given. Luckily, the noise does provide good
distraction, and Segal knows how to construct an action
sequence with humor.
Pushing that along is a top-notch cast.
Stamp can do evil in his sleep, though you might wish he
could have cut loose a little more against Carell and had
more fun with the part. As Agent 23, Johnson turns in one
more piece of evidence in his charisma file. Why is he not
The three real stars do make these roles
their own. Arkin easily steps into the shoes of the Chief,
mixing exasperation with respect for his new Agent 86. Given
a lot more back story than Barbara Feldon had, Hathaway
plays Agent 99 as her own character before melting into
Feldon's performance at the end. It's a tricky turn, and
noteworthy that she even captures Feldon's cadences without
making it seem an imitation.
And then only Carell could have touched
the role of Maxwell Smart. He avoids doing a Don Adams impersonation,
though it's hard not to hear an echo in all the catchphrases.
Good at both cerebral and physical comedy while also being
just a sincere actor, Carell almost makes you forget that
the script cannot quite decide if Smart is actually smart
or dumb but lucky, depending on which state would be funnier
for any given scene.
So the tone is wildly uneven. The plot
doesn't quite gel. And it does one thing that took me right
out of the movie for a few moments, having all of Adams'
accoutrements on display in the Smithsonian, sort of implying
that all those adventures happened, too.
Get Smart is still pretty funny, a likeable effort
that could painlessly turn into a franchise. I just wish
that while watching it, I had been loving it.
course, if you want to see the original series, check out
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