(No longer in theaters)
Andrew Lazar, Chuck Roven, Alex Gartner
Warner Bros. Pictures
Jun 20, 2008
Get Smart is likable and very funny—at least a two-to-one ratio of excellent gags to clunkers—but it’s not, for better or worse, Get Smart. In spite of the ridiculous malfunctioning secret-agent gadgets, the sixties Mel Brooks–Buck Henry sitcom wasn’t so much a James Bond parody as an American espionage reworking of Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau. Agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) might have fancied himself 007, but he was a preening boob without a trace of self-awareness—which ironically ensured his triumph over his rational (and therefore easily flummoxed) foes. Peter Segal’s star-packed update is bursting with uproarious gadget shtick, but Steve Carell’s Max simply isn’t the idiot we knew and loved.
On his own terms, Carell is delightful. But he’s delightful as a mild-mannered know-it-all whose occasional flights of grandiosity can’t keep him from plummeting to Earth. He’s plucky but not impervious. He’s the hero of the deskbound techie nerds at headquarters, the geek who gets to move from his analyst job into the field and prove he has the wherewithal to think on his feet. (There’s a genius bit at a urinal.) It’s a valid question whether we’d want another obtuse, Don Adams–like Agent 86. Get Smart the sitcom was a one-joke affair and got tedious fast, whereas Carell’s starry-eyed dweeb has room for nuance, for growth, for inspiration. A case can be made for both Maxes. Me, I miss the thickie.
This Agent 99 is a more shrewdly updated model. She’s not the super-competent Barbara Feldon straight woman whose mushy subtext was to preserve Smart’s delusions of potency. Here, she’s a bratty show-off—a perfectly cast Anne Hathaway dressed to the 99s in Chanel. Like most young actresses, Hathaway has dropped too many pounds—in a couple of shots her cheeks have sunken so deep that they can barely hold her giant teeth. But the sleekness, the hard lines, the blacks and bright greens against that ivory skin—yowza. I also like the scene where she wears a tousled jacket and loosened tie: It says, “Okay, boys. Deal me in.” After this and The Devil Wears Prada, Hathaway must have designers camping out in front of her co-op.
As the Chief, the straight man, Alan Arkin gets to show off some of the best timing in movies. Watch how he expels a wordy one-liner involving a giant swordfish in one perfectly calibrated breath: A good bit becomes a haymaker. Too bad about Terence Stamp as the kaos kingpin Siegfried: The character is no longer an ethnic joke, but now he’s not much of anything. There’s a lot in the mix: Dwayne Johnson and his muscles as the agency stud; a giant killer (wrestler Dalip Singh) modeled on Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me; mild barbs at Bush and Cheney balanced by a yellowcake-uranium threat that turns out to be real (makes a change); and star cameos. To keep the groundlings happy, there are more spectacular chases and shoot-outs than in many genuine action movies.
The best scene, though, makes the case for elegance, even in broad comedy. It’s a bit at a hoity-toity Russian black-tie affair where 99—looking like the Mata Hari of our dreams in a jaw-dropping green gown slit in all the right places—waltzes off with the suave-baddie host, and jealous Max hits the floor with an obese young woman (Lindsay Hollister). It turns out that Hollister is enchantingly light on her feet, and Carell—this is his gift—makes his fatuousness seem like a state of grace.