Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Get Smart: Summer Blockbuster Season Gets Fun And Funny!

The Good: Surprisingly well constructed, Funny, Well-acted, Engaging
The Bad: Some of the humor falls flat and obvious, Not a huge character film.
The Basics: Get Smart is a flat-out fun movie that is enjoyable, surprisingly clever at parts and laugh-out-loud funny in others, making it worthwhile.

Lately, I've taken a notebook with me to the theaters to watch movies so I remember things better. Unlike DVDs, which I rewatch and pause and fast forward and the like, in theaters, I concentrate and make notes. I was honestly not anticipating Get Smart living up to the amusing potential of the previews because I found I had more notes on a pretty extensive rant about how the previews began. Yes, I was prepared to rant at some length about how I, as a United States Citizen and taxpayer should not have to be subjected to a commercial for the National Guard - which, as a taxpayer, I paid to have made (against my will, in case anyone from the Congressional Appropriations committees are reading this) - featuring a band whose c.d.s I'd not buy (Three Doors Down, not my favorite and their jingoistic "Citizen Soldiers" which played for the commercial did not sell me on them), and be forced to pay to watch it! Yes, I've got some pretty righteous points on this one and after the huge disappointment of The Love Guru I was prepared to waste much of my review space with said rant.

The thing is, Get Smart was so good that I stopped taking notes. Seriously. Get Smart lured me in with its preview before Iron Man (reviewed here!) and the truth is, I haven't enjoyed a film this summer this much since Iron Man. Get Smart is funny and entertaining and surprisingly, it is well constructed in a way one would not usually think of from a comedic action-adventure film.

It is also worth noting that I've never seen an episode of Get Smart. This review will make no comparisons between the current film incarnation and the original television series. Other reviewers might have that knowledge and experience; this review is solely for the current film. It's a movie that works and truth be told, if it becomes a franchise, that might not be the worst thing in the world (assuming they all were this good).

Maxwell Smart is an analyst for CONTROL, a U.S. superspy organization that for all intents and purposes appears shuttered since the collapse of Soviet Communism. CONTROL's arch-nemesis, KAOS, appears to be as alive and well as CONTROL actually is and the villainous Siegfried is acquiring yellow cake uranium for KAOS to distribute to unstable dictatorships around the world. When Max manages to pass his test to become a numbered Agent, he finds himself disappointed by the Chief, who needs him for his meticulous reporting ability and efficiency.

Shortly after Max is disappointed, a bloodbath ensues at CONTROL headquarters and it is hit by agents of KAOS. Max, Agent 99, and Agent 23 liberate the survivors, who include the Chief, 91, Larabee, and the technical wizards Bruce and Lloyd. Establishing a new control center from their safe house, the Chief orders the only two agents who have not been compromised into the field: Agent 99 - who just had extensive plastic surgery - and Max, as Agent 86. 86 and 99 track Siegfried and KAOS in an attempt to find the uranium and the agent who arranged the hit on CONTROL. In the process, they develop a friendship and escape escalatingly dangerous situations.

Get Smart reunites actors Steve Carell and Alan Arkin, who appeared together in Little Miss Sunshine. Carell plays Maxwell Smart with his trademark deadpan, but he manages to keep the performance as an actual performance. There is rarely a hint of his holier-than-thou irony that he infused to make his reporter persona on The Daily Show seem real and satirical. Carell plays Smart as a well-actualized character who has mannerisms that are unique to the actual character.

As a result, Carell establishes Max as an incredibly intelligent, thorough and engaged analyst. In short, Max is a fully believable special agent working for a secret government project that would be used to find and eliminate terrorists and other threats to the United States. He is has the ability to remember vast amounts of information and he there is evidence he has great insight into codes, psychology and using gadgets.

Paired with Agent 99, Agent 86 finds his technical knowledge blends well with 99's field experience. 99 is efficient, physically able and knows her way around a dance floor, high heels, and a firearm.

Get Smart works so well because it manages to blend telling a serious story with dialogue that is rich in double entendres. There is great physical humor as characters like the massive Agent 23 pounds a coworker with a stapler only to be told by the Chief that that is not the kind of people they are. The humor is very consistent and there is a lot for adults to enjoy. Indeed, this is the first time in a long time I found myself laughing out loud at a movie ("I'm suddenly feeling very sexually threatened"), even more than the other people in the theater. This is very rare for me; comedies usually suffer when I watch them because as someone who watches a lot of movies, it takes a lot to surprise and thrill me. Humor, being based largely on surprise, becomes very predictable to me. But in Get Smart, there are lines that were outright funny that managed to surprise even a seasoned cinephile, the most notable of which involves a swordfish. In a movie rich with deadpans that Carell delivers, physical comedy performed by Dwayne Johnson, it is the more subtle Alan Arkin who gets the best line.

In fact, the only real problem with Get Smart is when it diverges from the specific humor of this world to play on the more typical and obvious conceits of PG-13 comedies. To wit, the moment there is a flashback involving Carell in a fat suit, the viewer is pulled out of the movie. The typical fat person joke is challenged later on by a scene opened by the use of mocking a fat woman, who dances with 86 and yet holds her own with him. The thing is, analyzing the scene becomes a stretch of logic; in order for it to truly redeem the humor of the earlier scene, the dance scene can't be funny in a way that mocks fat people, which . . . it does not manage to do. The scene works as "Fat Person Pride" only in the last moments when Agent 86 dances with her and she is a magnificent dancer and she is able to give the finger to the skinny girls who had been mocking her. Two fat jokes, a pretty standard gay joke, and the use of a pretty lousy fat suit pull the viewer out of Get Smart.

And some of the jokes just seem to go a little far with the repetition. The mini-crossbow scene, for example, is just too much.

The only other serious problem with this movie is that it has elements that are timely that would have worked better unseen. References to the Vice President as a dismissive controlling demagogue and the President being portrayed as an ignoramus work remarkably well for today's audiences. The problem is, they work much better - especially the Vice President's new pacemaker remark - only today and would have been better as barbs with the characters kept off-screen. Instead, the Bush-Cheney references are muted by the actual appearances of the President and Vice President characters.

These may seem like nitpicky things, but they are enough to rob the movie of enough merit to keep it from a seven of ten in my usual rating system.

What works, even if the characters are not impressively developed, are the casting and the acting. Get Smart features appearances by Terence Stamp, Dwayne Johnson (known more commonly as the wrestler "The Rock"), Masi Oka and Nate Torrence. Also present and notable is Ken Davitian, who was the sidekick producer in Borat. Here he plays Siegfried's lackey and he's good in the role, even if it is not that meaty. As well, there is a recognizable cameo by Bill Murray and some that are no doubt associated with the original Get Smart series.

At the time I saw this, this was only the second film I had seen featuring Anne Hathaway. Hathaway, in addition to being astonishingly good looking in a very classy way, is articulate and has a great physical presence in Get Smart. Hathaway plays Agent 99 and when she needs to, she emotes beautifully and presents the hints of fragility within her character. And the rest of the time, she has a cold, efficient facade that makes her a believable - if young - agent. Hathaway is great as 99. Sigh.

But much of the film hinges on Steve Carell. Actually, it hinges on how Carell and Hathaway act together and they have some real chemistry. Carell is able to infuse wit into a character who could be very dull and dry as an analyst and genius. Instead, from the moment Hathaway appears on screen with Carell, the film becomes about revealing the very human side of Max and Carell plays it out perfectly.

And in writing that, it brings me full circle to what made Get Smart such a fun and worthwhile movie. This is an exceptionally well-constructed movie. In his initial briefing for CONTROL, Max makes the point that everyone working for CONTROL and KAOS is, at the end of the day, human. This seems like a throwaway line, but it is the line the entire movie hinges on, not just a few convenient plot twists. As a result, the level of character that is more subtle than any other is the journey whereby Max and Agent 99 realize that they are more human than Agents and this is what will make Get Smart worth seeing more than once.

As it is, it's certainly worthwhile summer fare and I cannot imagine that when it is released on DVD this would not be a fun addition to anyone's collection. On DVD, Get Smart is indeed fun. It comes with a few featurettes on the making of the movie, including a fun one with Steve Carell in Moscow (or on a soundstage). There is no commentary track, but there is a decent gag reel and an advertisement for the straight-to-DVD sequel.

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Valentine's Day
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Bride Wars
Rachel Getting Married
The Princess Diaries


For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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