Get Smart (2008)
Directed by Peter Segal
Would you believe they missed it by that much?
The CONTROL Legacy
OK. This new cinematic rendition of Get Smart is better than The Nude Bomb. Fact is, it's really not all that bad. But – and this is a really big but – it's not all that good, either.
Cherry-picking at will from the original TV series (a major classic from Mel Brooks and Buck Henry), this Get Smart takes place in the modern day. It also indicates, through a museum exhibit of classic props, that CONTROL is now defunct and has been since the end of the Cold War.
Turns out, the museum exhibit (which features guided tours at the unlikely early time of "0745 hours") is merely a façade for CONTROl's new underground digs.
Given the movie acknowledges CONTROL existed in the 1960s, it's a little weird that Maxwell Smart is a contemporary CONTROL analyst who yearns to become a field agent. He's even lost 150 pounds while in boot camp (which, of course, allows for ample Steve-Carell-in-a-rubber-suit jokes). This is, unfortunately, not the Maxwell Smart that became a beloved fixture of the boob tube.
No other actor currently in the business is more tailor-made for the role of Maxwell Smart than Carell, the goofy boss in the American TV version of The Office. However, while Carell's got Max's straight-laced mannerisms down, there's nothing going on behind the eyes. There's no contemplation of the ridiculous, no acknowledgement of the sublime.
Would you believe this is all mine?
Photo: Warner Bros.
As brought to life by Don Adams, Max's synapses fired, but on a different schedule and at a different rate than everybody else's. By simply going through the motions of mimicking the stiff, external actions of Adams, Carell never really connects with the character and he reaffirms the contention that Adams owned the role. His was a talent that cannot be replaced.
As for Agent 86's main partner, 99, she's got a whole new back story as well. Now 99 (Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada) is an agent looking to redeem herself. Having compromised her ID after a botched mission (and an equally ill-fated office romance), she's undergone a drastic amount of plastic surgery to transform from a Perfect 10 blonde to a more "womanly" brunette.
Thankfully, the movie does have enough respect for the past to throw in plenty of references to the original series. Get Smart veteran Bernie Kopell shows up, as do Hymie, the spy robot (Patrick Warburton, TV's The Tick, in a perfect, but brief, role), and Fang, the ever-so-unlikely named spy dog. Even the under-appreciated Agent 13 gets a bit part via a surprise cameo by Bill Murray.
99 and 86
Photo: Warner Bros.
All of the key catchphrases from the TV series pop up at very carefully choreographed moments (too choreographed to be funny) and the (dreaded) Cone of Silence makes a high-tech appearance, but it still works like crap.
Throw in Terence Stamp (Wanted) as the main heavy and James Caan (Thief) as the President of the United States and there's a real sense of shame throughout that things aren't more fun. Part of the problem is that too much of the humor feels like it belongs in a different movie and, more sadly, the story is extremely mundane and unimaginative. The plot revolves around a bomb (and, YES, it's about to go off!) and Max's humanitarian mantra that even the bad guys are human beings who simply need to be understood (and, heck, a hug won't hurt, either).
Of course, included in all the big-budget calculations is the expectation of a certain degree of commercial success and the movie ends leaving things wiiiide open for a whole slew of Get Smart movies.
Maybe next time they'll use the ol' funny screenplay trick.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.