Get Smart (2008) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual and crude humor, violence and language
Running time: 110 min.

Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, David Koechner, Terry Crews, Ken Davitian, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, David S. Lee, James Caan, Larry Miller, Patrick Warburton, Bill Romanowski, Kevin Nealon
Cameo: Bill Murray, Bernie Kopell, Ryan Seacrest
Director: Peter Segal

Screenplay: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
Review published June 25, 2008

Steve Carell (Horton Hears a Who!, Dan in Real Life) stars as an analyst for the long-thought-defunct secret government agency, Control, though he has been diligently trying to become a special agent, including shedding over 150 lbs. and going through their highly rigorous training program.  He gets his chance when Control's headquarters is all but completely destroyed, compromising the identities of field agents who are being assassinated by their nemesis organization, KAOS, who have been hatching a scheme whereby they mean to explode a nuclear bomb in the middle of a bustling metropolis.  Smart, whose identity is not known to KAOS, gets promoted by the Chief (Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine), becoming Agent 86, and teaming up with Agent 99 (Hathaway, Becoming Jane), whose appearance had been recently altered after a previous identity compromise, to infiltrate and thwart the plans of KAOS leader Siegfried (Stamp, Elektra) and his highly skilled entourage of thugs.

Excellent casting saves this certain dud from being just another terrible big screen version of a beloved old TV spy series, with Carell perfectly portraying a bumbling ignoramus who somehow has the knack (and a lot of luck) to get himself out of nasty scrapes time and again.  It's not exactly a faithful recreation of the show (it plays much more like an entry in the Pink Panther series), as the personalities of all of the players differ from their small screen counterparts in ways that make this film an altogether different beast.  This is especially true of girl Friday, Agent 99, who is now a skilled fighter, alluring seductress, and with the help of excellent plastic surgery (a needless story angle, in my opinion), has a youthful appearance.  Nevertheless, Hathaway is certainly game, as is the rest of a very energetic ensemble of players, who each get their moment to shine with some choice bits of slapstick and witty repartee. 

While delivering good performances and enough choice laughs to stay afloat much of the way, Get Smart suffers from a laborious plot, excessive length, and an unevenness of tone that favors a violence that jars with the light banter of the dialogue, compounded with an unconvincing romance that brews between 86 and 99.  Peter Segal directs, and though he has made a similar comic action flick in Naked Gun 33 1/3, he is coming off of three straight lame Adam Sandler comedies, Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and The Longest Yard.  No surprise that he isn't quite up to the task of keeping this old idea fresh, and definitely spends too much time in lengthy action sequences that, while impressively mounted, aren't nearly as intense or exhilarating as he thinks they must be. 

The TV show had some action, usually mild shootouts and fisticuffs, but the creators, Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, knew audiences tuned in for the comedy, so whatever skirmishes Smart would get himself into, they were quickly resolved.  Not so here.  A three-way freefall battle for a parachute goes on for several minutes, as does an airplane chase sequence that has Smart hanging on for dear life on the tail of a giant banner for a suicide prevention hotline.  The comedy gets placed mostly on hold while Segal attempts to dazzle us with CGI-laden sequences that somehow never involve us in the process, as we know it's a comedy where the players never are in any danger of getting maimed or killed.  It's a waste, in my opinion, to pump so much money into action sequences that ruin the comedic momentum. Trim all of them down to just the bare essentials and you'd have a much more balanced and entertaining movie.

The comedy, scripted by Failure to Launch scribes Astle and Ember, is on the broad side, and like the action sequences, they tend to go on longer than necessary.  A scene where Smart uses a mini-crossbow from his souped-up Swiss Army knife has him getting pierced several times from the ricochet of the silk-threaded arrows.  It's a sight gag that amuses on the first instance, but after Smart continues to shoot himself several more times, it gets a little painful to watch.  Some scenes meant to be funny just aren't.  Smart dances with a very large Russian woman in an informal competition with 99; on the surface it is amusing, but nothing is done with it and it goes on far past the humor value.  A scene later in the film has Smart use his skills at persuasion to coax (WWE's The Great Khali) Dalip Singh's giant thug character into a moment of catharsis.  Smart makes him turn from angry murderer to a whimpering ball of sniffles by suggesting he patch things up with his estranged wife.  It's not funny, and just pads an already lengthy film into intermittent monotony.

Get Smart has some choice references to the original television show, but most of those are merely cosmetic, as we see familiar props trotted out, including the shoe phone and red convertible.  They come from a museum display, which is probably where the "Get Smart" franchise belongs, as super-spy spoofs have came and went since its TV heyday, to the point where once fresh ideas are now ho-hum without a new angle. Although it sets itself up for the possibility of a sequel, as a first entry, it's a bit of a disappointment that so much expense and energy, plus some very good performances, couldn't result in a more satisfying movie.  Several of Smart's TV catchphrases are brought from TV to silver screen, but the one that he uses most often in this film is perhaps the most appropriate to describe its worthiness -- "Missed it by that much".

-- Followed by a straight-to-DVD spin-off, Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control (2008)

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo