DVD Review: Get Smart

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This is a review of the theatrical release, published June 13, 2008

"Get Smart" the movie has precious little to do with "Get Smart" the iconic TV series from the 1960s, but then again the movie has precious little to do with screen comedy, either.

This is a slap-dash effort whose producers threw money and stunts onscreen instead of the satirical gags and one-liners that made the old spy spoof so memorable.

It's hard to see how this lame puppy will gain any boxoffice traction other than by waving the banner of star Steve Carell opening weekend. His younger fans, who wouldn't know "Get Smart" from "I Spy," might laugh at the overblown action swirling around their poker-faced hero, but are likely to advise friends to wait for the DVD.

The film opens in Washington, D.C., where satirical remnants of the old TV series are visible -- like Carell's agent Maxwell Smart musical march down a corridor of opening and closing sliding doors only to disappear down a telephone booth into the super-secret headquarters of his spy agency CONTROL -- then expands into a more James Bond second act set in and around Moscow and winds up in a stunt-laden finale in downtown Los Angeles.

The overriding factor here is that the filmmakers -- this would include ham-fisted director Peter Segal and the punchless writing team of Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember -- don't know what the joke is. Is this a spoof of an old TV series. Is this a spoof of Ian Fleming? Is this a Carell vehicle? No one seems to know as familiar lines crop up in the wrong places and the timing of gags, so indelibly rendered in the series, misfires on nearly every occasion.

To his credit, Carell doesn't attempt to imitate the late Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart. Carell's own brand of flustered dignity and disguised insecurity plays well enough. Carell's Max is less an inept spy who bumbles his way to success than an analyst-wonk out of his depth in the field.

Max's boss, CONTROL's Chief, is played by Alan Arkin, who manages to retain his dignity, while Max's co-agent and love interest, Agent 99, is Anne Hathaway, who manages to retain her beauty. She's a martial-arts babe rather than an adoring co-worker as Barbara Feldon originally played the role, but that probably suits the times.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has a good lock on the straight-faced comedy required for a "Get Smart" movie as he plays a CONTROL's superstar Agent 23. The villains from the evil criminal organization KAOS, a distracted Terence Stamp and portly "Borat" survivor Ken Davitian, seem barely interested in the proceedings.

What passes for a plot is a mishmash of old spy movies from various Bond titles to a "Three Days of the Condor" break-in at CONTROL headquarters to a conspiracy to set off a bomb in Los Angeles where the president (James Caan) is attending a concert, evoking memories of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and "In the Line of Fire." Not a lot of laughs there though.

The original series was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and it's a shame their only contribution here is as "consultants." Do you think they're too old to write a "Get Smart" script? No, we don't think so, either.
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