Theatrical Review: Get Smart

Maxwell Smart is an analyst with the covert secret agency CONTROL. Max is very good at his job, but now yearns to be an agent in the field. After passing the tests that he needs to in order to advance, the arch forces of the enemy agency KAOS threaten to strike in a devastating way. Now it’s up to Max to find out for sure what is being done and to stop them.

And that’s a very loose description of the premise to Get Smart, a movie updating and re-imagining of the classic comedy TV series from the 1960s…

… and the new winner to the title of “Worst Movie Of The Year,” and here it is, I thought it was going to take some time before something could take that title away from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and yet this movie does so with ease.

This is supposed to be a comedy and yet, I didn’t laugh at a thing in the film and so right there it fails and fails miserably. Even when this is relying on some of the old chestnuts from the original series (with one notable exception), this just fails.

And the reason for that failure is on two counts- it’s ill-conceived as a movie, and the character of Maxwell Smart has been seriously compromised.

Now, y’see, back when the show was on, it was genuinely funny and being the brainchild of comedy legends Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, you’d expect it to be. The TV series was a spoof of spy movies, it was a low budget and very small show, and yet it was loaded with big, but two-dimensional characters, and the biggest of them all was Maxwell Smart. And it was also ridiculously rapid-fire with it’s jokes and gags. And also, I loved the original series, I think it was one of the all-time greats in television comedy.

Here… here, director Peter Segal gets it entirely wrong. First, this is trying to be an action movie with lots of comedic overtones, and it’s also very big, especially in consideration of it’s source, and the biggest thing that they do wrong in the midst of all of that is that they try to make you think it’s real, and that was never the spirit of the original show by any means.

The second thing that they get wrong is in the character of Maxwell Smart. Now Don Adams was a genius and he knew just how Smart was to be played. Smart was the GREATEST secret agent in the world, especially in his own mind, even if he screwed up more often than not, but above all he was extremely confident. Here, they’ve turned Maxwell Smart into the most politically correct pussy on the planet, and there’s some small part of me that can’t help but wonder if this is in some way partly due to Steve Carell and what he’s been doing in some of his other movies lately. This Maxwell Smart’s main drive is to understand that his enemies in the world are people first and if you get to know the person, you then find the weakness, but his way of getting to the weakness is with compassion more than anything else…

… oh for cryin’ out loud…

This movie is nearly two hours long, and that’s because it’s trying to be an action movie and it’s pacing itself that way, and when it throws in it’s gags, it just falls flat and even worse than that… boring. I certainly had plenty of criticism with The Love Guru but one thing that they certainly get is that it is supposed to be a comedy, and in comparison to Get Smart, it’s comedy genius.

Now there is plenty here for the Get Smart TV series fan, lots of bits and sight gags, and every now and then, Carell well spout out one of the lines that Max used in the day and because of the change that they made with Smart himself, that line just feel like Steve Carell saying the line by rote and little else.

On paper, Steve Carell should be perfect for the part… that is if he would be willing to play something just as two-dimensional as what Maxwell Smart was (and even moreso if the movie would’ve been willing to go that route- this movie is looking at Mission: Impossible when it should be looking at Airplane! or Blazing Saddles), but here, he just seems like amateur night or what you’d get if Michael Scott (his character from The Office) was trying to act. Anne Hathaway plays Smart’s partner, Agent 99, and first off, she just looks fantastic and also looks like she would have a real affinity with being in a legitimate action film, it’s just too bad that she’s in this one. And her character has been changed as well, in particularly to be a little more shrewish than anything else. Alan Arkin is The Chief, the head of CONTROL, Dwayne Johnson is Agent 23, the coolest agent on the planet and a good pal of Max’s (of course here every one calls him Maxie) and Terence Stamp is Siegfried, Smart’s opponent at KAOS. All three of these guys do the best they can with what they’ve got, it’s just that what they got is incredibly weak. There’s a brief cameo by a surprise guest star, and that’s the notable exception that I mentioned near the start of this review- this bit is funny (though not a gut-buster, but still amusing), it’s in keeping with the show, and it really should’ve been followed up on about to more times in the film, but it was pretty much left alone after that, but still this moment is the best part of the film.

So you don’t believe me, it can’t possibly be this bad? Fine… go see it for yourself and then come back here and try and tell me just how much you laughed during this. Go ahead, I dare you… do it…

Get Smart is as ill-conceived as a TV-to-movie adaptation/remake/re-imagining can get and even though it tries to have some echoes of the original series, those echoes fall flat due to a poor conception of the film and a dramatically ill-conceived new interpretation of it’s lead character. As such, you have a comedy here that’s just not funny on virtually any level (with the one exception) and if a comedy isn’t funny then it’s a bad movie, and this one is just about as bad as it gets. About a half hour before this ended, I was just about ready to ask if anyone wanted to leave, but we stood through it all the way until it’s incredibly sappy end… oh I wish we had, but then I couldn’t pass on this cautionary review on to you…

Right now… Get Smart is the worst movie of the year, period.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

22. June 2008 by Darren Goodhart
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