Movie review by Greg Carlson
While it might have sounded marketable on paper – Steve Carell filling the telephonic shoes of Don Adams in a big-budget version of “Get Smart” – the resulting mess is a hodgepodge of mostly unfunny physical comedy supplemented by a smattering of reasonably clever one-liners. Older fans of the original television series that ran from 1965 to 1970 might smile at some of the movie’s half-hearted efforts to revive beloved gags, but younger viewers with no frame of reference will be more likely to unfavorably compare the film to James Bond movies. Strangely, “Get Smart” spends nearly as much time attempting to pull off the breathless action that propels the Bond franchise when it should be a daffy send-up.
Carell is no Don Adams, but given the current roster of deadpan television performers adept at playing nerdy and clueless, he was a good choice for Maxwell Smart. The movie re-imagines Smart as a deskbound “chatter” analyst for CONTROL, even though the man dreams of passing his field agent exam in order to attain some of the glamour that virtually emanates like a cloud from the hyper-masculine Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). The Chief (Alan Arkin, doing the best he can with an almost shockingly flavorless screenplay) knows that Smart is better utilized in a cubicle, but relents following an attack by KAOS that jeopardizes CONTROL’s entire operation.
Naturally, Smart is quickly paired with the luscious Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), but unlike the relationship of the small screen version, she initially finds Smart anything but attractive and brusquely tells him so. Hathaway’s 99 is a brittle scold and absolutely no fun. The resulting screwball-style bickering between the mismatched leads wears thin almost immediately, even though Carell manages embarrassment and humiliation like a champ. The main problem with this Smart, though, is that he is far too competent and self-aware to earn the kind of huge laughs that Peter Sellers managed as Inspector Clouseau.
When “Get Smart” pulls out staple jokes, they bomb hard. The “Would you believe?” routine ends with a lame Chuck Norris punchline that was kind of funny when it bounced around the web a few years ago. “Missed it by that much” pops up a couple of times, and yields zero laughter. As seen in the trailer, Carell’s intense shouting about the best day of his life is pretty good, although the “Cone of Silence” loses its physical Plexiglas charm in a transformation to a run-of-the-mill CG effect. Ditto for the multiple security doors that Smart navigates at CONTROL headquarters.
“Get Smart” is designed as a showcase for Carell’s comic acting, but most of the veterans stuck in supporting roles struggle with wooden dialogue. In addition to Arkin, Terence Stamp’s KAOS leader is a discarded afterthought. A Richard Kiel-esque KAOS henchman gets more screen time and character development. David Koechner is a boorish Larabee, and James Caan is completely miscast as a W-like idiot commander-in-chief. Johnson, like Carell, is willing to do anything for a laugh, but Agent 23 functions almost entirely as a plot device rather than a character. “Get Smart” has not been as poorly reviewed as “The Love Guru” (which opened less successfully on the same day) but it is hardly worth seeing as a replacement.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/23/08.