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cultural vandal | 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

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