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July 28, 2014

Get Smart on the big screen - a movie review

by Allison Waldman, posted Jun 24th 2008 11:41AM
AP Matt Sayles pic of Steve Carell and Anne HathawayI went to see Get Smart the other day. Judging by the box office numbers, I wasn't alone. Of course, I was curious about how one of my favorite TV shows from the '60s would be translated to the big screen. Would it be an inventive retelling in the tradition of The Fugitive, Maverick and The Addam's Family, or would it make me want to weep in horror like the dreadful I Spy, Bewitched, The Wild, Wild West and The Avengers? (And that's only the tip of the awful iceberg).

Would you believe it if I told you Get Smart falls somewhere in between? I could use the line many other reviewers have copped; you know, "The new Get Smart missed it by that much." Yes, well, it's true. Get Smart is not great on the big screen. It's okay. Nothing too shameful, but neither is it that inspired or wickedly built on the premise of the original situation comedy.


The best things about Get Smart is the first and most important element in the picture: the casting. Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart is right on the money, as is Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. They have good chemistry and are an excellent updated approximation of Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Alan Arkin as the chief doesn't employ the slow burn that was so much a part of Edward Platt's schtick in the original series, but the screenplay doesn't call for it because Maxwell Smart in the movie is really not the Maxwell Smart from the 1965 TV show.

On TV, Max was like Inspector Clouseau -- a bumbling secret agent who somehow managed to do his job and was surprisingly successful. The chief was often exasperated by Max's ineptitude, but he couldn't deny that he came out ahead. Meanwhile, 99 was adoringly patient and, although more competent, she allowed Max to be in charge. This was definitely a pre-Women's Lib interpretation of a female spy (although in England, Mrs. Peel was completely liberated and appeared on The Avengers the very same year Get Smart premiered).

In the new Get Smart, 99 is the smart one and she's partnered with Max against her will. Max, you see, is a rookie field agent. He's a super-capable desk jockey and is only gets into the action when CONTROL headquarters is attacked and the identity of the surviving agents are compromised. The plot, such as it is, sends Max and 99 to Russia in search of a factory making yellow cake uranium for nuclear bombs, and the KAOS villain behind the plan to use the materials.

The fatal flaw of film is that the villain stinks. Siegfried, who was an ongoing baddie in the sitcom -- and as played by Bernie Koppell, very funny -- is completely one-note in the film. Terence Stamp really brings nothing to the role. Instead of matching wits with Max, the film's climax is all about the big stunts -- planes, cars and trains and explosions.

It's a disappointment, too, because the best of this Max is when he uses his brain, like when he figures out how to break out of a prison cell, or when facing the incredibly huge, Jaws-like henchman who wants to kill him, he has intel about her personal life to disarm him. The film could have used more of those kind of Smarts and less running to stop a bombing -- you know, the old stop the bomb being detonated by the last musical note trick.

The framework of a very good Get Smart movie was there. The set-up of having the old props and the car from the TV series in a museum, with CONTROL headquarters hidden deep in the bowels and accessed via many doors and a telephone booth elevator -- an homage to the TV show -- was clever. And when Steve Carell escaped prison, it was perfect to have him use the museum gear -- the natty Don Adams suit, the shoe phone and the red Sunbeam -- to get away.

Since the picture is doing well, there could be another Get Smart movie in the works. And there's the element here for a better one (not to mention the appearance of Hymie the robot, played by comic favorite Patrick Warburton, in the fade out). The next writer(s) and director should go back to the original Mel Brooks and Buck Henry material. Get Smart was consistently funny. It was a parody. It employed sight gags and slapstick. It made fun of the spy genre. Get Smart the movie is too busy trying to be a real spy movie.

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Paul K

I do agree that it did not live up to the original premise of Get Smart. That having been said, it was absolutely hilarious! I enjoyed the steady stream of one liners, sight gags, and physical comedy that pretty much permeated the entire movie! I haven't laughed that hard in a long time, and am apt to forgive its shortcomings. :)

June 24 2008 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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