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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Get Smart (review)

Shoe-Phoning It In

It’s kinda weird, but I find I have very little to say about Get Smart. I’ve been pondering the flick for the week and a half since I saw it, and I was prodding myself all weekend to get something down here, if only for purely mercenary reasons — I figured it would win the weekend (and it did) and that good moviegoin’ folk would be looking for reviews come Monday and that that would mean pageviews for me, if I had a review here. But I can’t muster much. (And you may note that I downgraded the film from green light to a yellow. Sorry. Sometimes thinking about a movie will do that to me.)
When my friends have demanded to know what I thought, the best I could say was, “It’s sporadically hilarious.” Which isn’t a bad thing: so few movies make me laugh out loud, and I did do that more than once with this one, and that’s reason for a minor celebration. And I was sorta intrigued by the obvious and blatant turn against the Bush administration that this movie represents, at least in couched and somewhat coded terms: I think this is the first mainstream Hollywood movie that has been actively disdainful, in such an extended, not-in-passing way, of the Department of Homeland Security, of the idea of terrorism being a looming and indefatigable threat to Our Very Way of Life, of law-enforcement agents as outright clowns. When even dumbish comedies aimed at the lowest-common-denominator audience are trashing the state of this country, perhaps it’s the light at the end of the tunnel.

But as for the movie itself, taken on its own terms? Yes, it’s cheerfully goofy in parts, while also being suprisingly, James Bond-ishly exciting in parts, and manages to mesh those two opposing impulses in a not-unappealing manner. But that’s pretty much the entirety of my reaction to the film: it’s all characterized by nots and negatives. It’s not half bad. It’s better than I feared it would be. It’s a not unenjoyable time at the movies. It’s no disaster.

It’s good enough, in fact, that you find yourself wishing it were better, that it went wholeheartedly in either direction — preferrably in the goofy direction, considering the source material, maybe even in a cerebral-goofy direction. Because as inspired as the casting of Steve Carell (Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, Dan in Real Life) as Agent Maxwell Smart is, there are entire realms of Steve Carell-ness that are just hinted at here, and could have been put to brilliant use by a filmmaker like, oh, Charlie Kaufman. Or the Coen Brothers. There’s something so ineffably sad about Carell, and he brings a sense of comic tragedy to Max that is not capitalized upon by the film. Get Smart the movie could have been a wild reimagining of Max for this new age that has taken silly stuff and turned it sidewise and reconsidered it from new angles and asked us not to dismiss it. Instead, it’s happy to be merely dismissable.


Watch Get Smart online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Hm. I can see where you’re coming from with this review, although I’m a bit more enthusiastic about the film. It didn’t blow me away, but I really enjoyed it, and thought it was very funny. I guess it is kind of a backhanded compliment to say it’s better than I thought it would be, but it is. Quite a lot, actually. I was cautiously optimistic about this, with a heavy emphasis on cautious.

    As a big fan of the original series (I watched it on Nick-at-Nite as a lad, but my girlfriend and I have been rewatching them lately, and they hold up, albeit with a few uncomfortably racist/sexist bits sprinkled here any there) it would have been easy to hate this, and say it wasn’t true to the original series, and so on, but it didn’t elicit that in me because I was too busy enjoying it.

    I guess I’m in the same ballpark with you on the border between yellow and green, but I fall just over on the green side.

  • A Guy

    Your review doesn’t even mention Anne Hathaway!! She’s at least half the reason (that I’m going) to see the movie.

    Let me see if I can put it into terms you’ll understand: ignoring Anne Hathaway and then claiming Get Smart isn’t all that is a bit like saying Ocean’s Eleven isn’t that good if you ignore Clooney and Pitt.

  • MaryAnn

    But I wouldn’t say that about *Ocean’s 11.*

    I think it’s safe for you to assume that if I didn’t mention Anne Hathaway (or The Rock, or anyone else) then my reaction to them is along the same lines as the rest of the review.

  • Ryan

    I saw this film twice, once with family and once with a group of friends…and I must say, it was actually more enjoyable the second time. In particular, watching the arc of ‘Dwayne Johnson’ aka The Rock’s character was fun the second time, because it was actually very clever the way that was set up.

    Also, I thought the acting by Hathaway, Carell, Arkin, and the Rock was uniformly good.

    The problem I had with the movie was that Chaos didn’t make much sense. It felt like the writers decided they had to have a villain…but they had no idea what to do with said Villain, and so the scenes featuring the Chaos team feel tacked on and weak.

  • Amy S.

    So right on this one. And I know that it’s common in Hollywood to cast a 20-something with a 40-something, but can’t they for once cast a woman closer in age to the lead actor. So annoying!

    I enjoy Anne Hathaway in films like Becoming Jane or Princess Diaries.

    I thought about some casting ideas at my blog (Rachel Weisz, Angie Harmon, Kate Beckinsale, Portia De Rossi): http://steeleonentertainment.blogspot.com/2008/06/get-smart-why-cant-female-lead-be-older.html

    Carrell has gotten way too much mileage out of his Office character. The Rock did quite well. Sexy.

  • Allen Darrah

    At the bitter end it all made sense, when the name “Mel Brooks” popped up on the screen. It was very telling… the movie was quite funny, but really very boring. The jokes were well done but the movie itself was really lacking.

  • Carrell has gotten way too much mileage out of his Office character.
    –Amy S.

    Yes, he has. Writer Peter David has tried to argue on his website that there were some similarities between the movie and TV versions of Maxwell Smart, but I still don’t recall the TV Maxwell Smart as being as obsessed with being liked as the movie version was. And of course, an obsession with being liked was a key characteristic of the character Carrell plays on The Office.

    Oh, well. Jason Lee has basically been playing in movies the same character he plays on his TV show. Apparently it’s a habit.

    It didn’t blow me away, but I really enjoyed it, and thought it was very funny. I guess it is kind of a backhanded compliment to say it’s better than I thought it would be, but it is. Quite a lot, actually. I was cautiously optimistic about this, with a heavy emphasis on cautious.
    –Count Shrimpula

    Well, I won’t pretend it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. (It was better than, say, The Nude Bomb, which was the last attempt to bring Get Smart to the big screen.)

    And I did enjoy it more than I thought I would.

    But I kinda wish it was a little less predictable.

    And borrowing a joke from American Dad? That’s just so wrong…

    In particular, watching the arc of ‘Dwayne Johnson’ aka The Rock’s character was fun the second time, because it was actually very clever the way that was set up.
    –Ryan

    SPOILERS

    Actually that was predictable. I mean who didn’t predict who the mystery villain was going to turn out to be the first time he or she saw this movie?

  • Joe

    Good call on the review. I saw it a couple days ago and the only thing I could say about it was it was aggressively mediocre.

  • Robert M.

    I finally figured out how I feel about this movie when I thought about it this way: how would it have been without Carell, Hathaway, Arkin, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) the freaking Rock to save it?

    They made the flat jokes passable, the few good jokes into laugh-out-loud moments, and relatively flat characters interesting.

    With that said, my biggest regret is something Maryanne touched on: it had so much potential. The script went for low-hanging fruit when it could have been, well, Smart… and suffered as a result.

  • And I was sorta intrigued by the obvious and blatant turn against the Bush administration that this movie represents, at least in couched and somewhat coded terms: I think this is the first mainstream Hollywood movie that has been actively disdainful, in such an extended, not-in-passing way, of the Department of Homeland Security, of the idea of terrorism being a looming and indefatigable threat to Our Very Way of Life, of law-enforcement agents as outright clowns. When even dumbish comedies aimed at the lowest-common-denominator audience are trashing the state of this country, perhaps it’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    If only that were true…

    But even the godawful Scary Movie series isn’t above making fun of Bush.

    Even the way-mediocre American Dad series makes fun of CIA agents, super-patriots and the War on Terror.

    Even the so-so series Boston Legal includes an episode every few weeks in which the James Spader character preaches against the current administration in the course of making a courtroom speech.

    SPOILERS

    And, of course, we’re talking about the “subversiveness” of a movie in which the main character gets into trouble for reporting weapons of mass destruction (including yellow cake uranium–sound familiar?) that are later reported to be nonexistent–only to be vindicated in the end when it turns out that there were weapons of mass destruction and that the guy who said otherwise turned out to be a big nogoodnik.

    So we’re not exactly talking about Brazil or Dr. Strangelove territory here.

  • MaryAnn

    I didn’t say we were…

  • tom

    Steve Carell is overrated. I’ll say it.. no one else will. He’s a one trick pony! Why is it that no matter what i see him in, I see Michael Scott, or in Michael Scott, I see all other characters he plays. I didn’t enjoy him in the Daily Show, if fact, his bits were quite forgettable. I didn’t like him in 40 year old virgin, or Evan Almighty. While the office is one of my favorite shows, he is NOT a reason why I watch.

    As maxwell smart, I see the same character, I don’t see the quirky incompetence that Don Adams played, I see Michael Scott, or insert your Steve Carell persona here.. in short, awkward, unconfortable dialog and confrontation… as I said.. Micharl Scott.. secred agent.

    Such a disapointment to me, Steve had always been on the fense as to how I felt about him, but he’s moved himself over to the ‘don’t like him’ category now. That’s not going to change my view of “The Office” as we still Have Dwight, Jim , Pam, Creedm, Angela, etc. Shoot, I even like Ed Helms.. and would probably have played a better Max than this guy.

    In short, a disapointment that does not live up to the classic TV series of which I remember fondly.
    Lancelot Link Secret Chimp is a better tribute to the orignal show than this movie.

    On the bright side “The Rock” was one of the highlights, not enough of him in the movie.

  • MaryAnn

    He’s a one trick pony!

    Have you seen *Dan in Real Life*? Carell has range.

  • Ryan

    Let’s not hate on Steve Carell while Will Ferrel and Ben Stiller are still getting work as comedic actors.

    Also, wondering what Get Smart would have been like without Carell, Hathaway, Arkin and The Rock in it is sort of like wondering what Raiders of the Lost Arc would have been like without Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. If the actors were good and made the film better…that is a valid reason to like the movie.

    *SPOILERS*
    And I in no way believed the Rock was going to be the villain in the movie until very close to the end. I mean, they had freaking Terrence Howard…usually that’s good enough in the villain department.

    (Ed Helms sucks)

  • Clintmemo

    I’m not a Office fan and I don’t remember the original TV show, but I liked the movie, largely because I liked the way Steve Carell portrayed Maxwell Smart as someone likable. When I saw the previews, I was afraid it was going to be yet another comedy based on taking an annoying character and placing them in uncomfortable situations. How many movies have Ben Stiller and Will Farell made this way?

    Steve Carell made Maxwell Smart likable. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, he was socially inept, but he was never abrasive, always did the right thing and some of his crazy schemes actually worked.

  • Bill

    “Let’s not hate on Steve Carell while Will Ferrel and Ben Stiller are still getting work as comedic actors.”

    I can’t say much for Ben Stiller, but for evidence of Will Ferrell’s talents, see ‘Stranger Than Fiction”, “Melinda and Melinda”, and “Winter Passing”.

    My apologies for drifting off the “Get Smart” topic. Just wanted to add my 2 cents with regard to which comedic actors should still be getting work.

  • Henry

    For Ben Stiller, see The Royal Tenenbaums. Luke “Aw-Shucks-I’m-Such-A-Likeable-Dope” Wilson turns in a good preformance, too.

    I don’t think it’s always actors’ lack of talent that turns them into one-trick ponies — I think it’s sometimes the mass audience’s lack of imagination/spontaneity/flexiblity/intelligence/insert word that rings of dullness here, as none of these movies got any serious numbers at the box office.

  • MaryAnn

    Stiller and Ferrel have real chops: it’s just that they rarely show them.

  • Jon Stout

    Just came back from seeing this. I thought that it was surprisingly effective both as a comedy and as a spy movie (well, the James Bond kind of spy movie, anyway). I thought Carrell did a great job inserting some kind of pathos into his role as Maxwell Smart, I enjoyed the nods to the old show, and, in my opinion, both Anne Hathaway and the Rock (which shocked me – I mean, the Rock? Actually doing a halfway decent job in a comedy, of all things?) worked rather well.

    While I do understand your opinion in this matter, I also can’t help but understand why the filmmakers didn’t try to push the boundaries too far. Considering the number of reviews I saw on the way through complaining that Carrell actually played Smart as somewhat competent, it seems to me that this film has been caught in a catch-22 — get too far from the original and tick off the fans; stay too close, and people think it should have been better. Maybe we are having a really good summer, movie-wise, but I’m still happy with a film that isn’t a total waste of the ticket price.

  • Jon Stout

    @ Amy: So right on this one. And I know that it’s common in Hollywood to cast a 20-something with a 40-something, but can’t they for once cast a woman closer in age to the lead actor. So annoying!

    Come to think of it, I actually like that they addressed that issue in the film. Anne Hathaway mentioned that she had her plastic surgeon “take off a few years” when she had her identity compromised, remember? So at least it seems the filmmakers know where you’re coming from.

  • Jon Stout

    Hmm. Sorry for the triple post (betcha everyone’s over at the Dark Knight review by now)… but having looked over some of the comments here, I’m starting to wonder – maybe one of the reasons I liked the movie is that I’ve never really watched “The Office”? So perhaps I haven’t been oversaturated on Steve Carrell, the way everyone else has… Just a thought.

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