Friday, June 20, 2008

Get Smart: Dumb, and Not That Much Fun

(review by Philip Booth)

Viewers old enough to have experienced the original 1965-1970 television run of super-spy parody show "Get Smart" – in other words, not the target audience of the big-screen remake – likely will chuckle over the new film's multiple references to the old series of the same name.

There's the brisk walk down a staircase, through a series of cleverly designed sliding doors and into a telephone booth that mysteriously turns into a downward rocketing elevator, landing in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of a secret governmental organization, CONTROL.

And Steve Carell, as klutzy secret agent Maxwell Smart, gets to use that iconic shoe phone and mouth several of the lines Don Adams turned into catch phrases in the original program – namely, "sorry about that, chief" and "would you believe?"

Fans of Carell's work as incompetent but egotistical boss Michael Scott on television's "The Office" and the befuddled but sweet title character of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," may show up just to see the recently minted star take on a new challenge. But those patrons may leave befuddled, thinking, why the fuss over a would-be James Bond parody that's not nearly funny (by half) as the more recent Austin Powers movies? And is Get Smart a straight-up comedy, or more an action thriller with a comic edge?

The answer(s) don't much matter, as the movie, rather haphazardly directed by Peter Segal (The Longest Yard, 50 First Dates), mostly limps along, its derivative storyline goosed only by Carell's likable performance and assorted hit-and-miss sight gags and jokes – several involve Smart's inability to use his gadgets without injuring himself.

The story, such as it is, centers on Control analyst Smart's efforts to prove himself a worthy field agent. Paired with young, beautiful Agent 99 (Hathaway, a not-bad stand-in for the original's Barbara Feldon), he fumbles and bumbles his way through various, mostly random fights and chases in the Soviet Union and in and around the Frank Gehry-designed Disney concert hall in Los Angeles. His nemeses include his competition, rakish and successful Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) and Eastern European KAOS baddies played by screen vet Terence Stamp and Ken Davitian (Borat).

Too many scenes fall flat, and too many sequences – including a montage of images already seen in the film, always a bad sign – come off as filler, intended to bolster a flimsy plot.

With Carell leading a cast that also includes Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Stamp and James Caan, Segal couldn't have concocted something more inspired than this? Really? Too bad writing chores weren't assigned to "consultants" Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, who created the original series, rather than to paint-by-numbers screenwriters Tom J. Astle (the abysmal Failure to Launch) and Matt Ember

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