Got Smart?

by July 3rd, 2008 - Culture » Film and TV »

This movie…is not as good as I think it is.

But my thoughts will not change on the matter. I was raised by my parents. When they weren’t looking, I was raised by Nick at Nite, on such shows as Gilligan’s Island, F Troop, The Addams Family and, most of all, Get Smart.

These were ridiculous, escapist comedies that had their own unique worlds and rules. For me, this feeling was markedly intensified 20 to 30 years after their original airing, like a lost signal of a parallel universe providing a black and white static to lose oneself from the modern world.

Watching these shows helped me, at a such a young age, to so quickly become such an old and crotchety man, denigrating modern TV comedy for its lack of imagination…no longer providing an absurdist or fantasy escape, but rather creating a bittersweet loop of our daily work and living arrangements, forcing only a strained smile of echoed anxiety instead of the incredible eye rolling and sudden guffaws elicited by shows like Get Smart.

This is why, though it does have its problems for both fan-boys and casual viewers, I am too overjoyed by its mere existence to provide a completely honest review of the new Get Smart, yet leave my thoughts anyway.

I was very excited about the project when I first saw it announced, but was also a little fearful of a poor production and what I thought would be a certain box-office failure, signaling the further waning of the type of silliness I so crave.

Fantastically, it has kicked ass, winning its opening weekend and already bringing in over $80 million. It seems it will sufficiently cover costs and would hopefully warrant future efforts in the series.

This, of course, is in large part to the casting of Steve Carell as the titular-ish character of Maxwell Smart. His fame and fan-base have undoubtedly helped to fuel the movie’s early success.

There is really no one else – besides, unreasonably, myself – that I would have ever thought capable of playing the character. Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, was such a freaky unique creature, making the character so intriguing and memorable, but also very truly irreplaceable. Amazingly, Steve Carell shares not only some of the same comedic sensibilities and timing with Don Adams, but also has his own mutant uniqueness, which is perhaps at least in the same genus as Adams.

Carell is truly enjoyable as Maxwell Smart in his own right, but the performance is doubly enjoyable as it creates odd moments in which it seems the two actors overlap through a happy accident rather than an awkward homage.

The only real complaint I have with Carell’s version of Maxwell Smart is the self-conscious vulnerability, a Carell staple, that corrupts what was the very seldom faltering, ever resilient, dumb brazen confidence of the original Smart.

This is also reflected in the character of Agent 99, played by Anne Hathaway, and her relationship with Max. One of the great features of the original show was the doting and obvious love of Barbara Feldon in the role of Agent 99 for Maxwell Smart, a man who was so caught up in his own unstoppably flawed spying genius to recognize the love of a woman he probably didn’t deserve.

In this update, we are instead treated to a 99 who has none of the soft charms of the original character, essentially devolving into a random, unremarkable female character who has been slotted as antagonistic and combative to bolster the film’s storyline.

But these are the things we suffer for a box-office viable revival of a great, great property. The remaining concessions are much less objectionable and are, in general, executed much better as well.

The character of Agent 23, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – I feel silly using “The Rock”, but that is how you know who I’m talking about – is surprisingly the best addition in the along these lines. When I saw the film’s first trailer, my immediate fear was that the movie would follow “The Rock” more as the central character than Maxwell Smart. However, this is not the case as the character is instead used effectively to establish a more “realistic” spy environment in contrast to the underdog silliness of Max, who largely continues to run the show.

Alan Arkin brings to life a very different version of the Chief, much more energetic and feisty than the low-key, straight-man performance that Edward Platt brought to the original. As a fan-boy…I shed a tear over this small, but sad loss. However, I am just smart enough to realize that this is only because I am a fan-boy. In reality, Arkin’s performance was very entertaining, helping to create a much more dynamic comedy.

My final major disappointment as a nostalgic curmudgeon is the character of Siegfried. Terence Stamp is an incredible actor. I loved him in Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema. I also believe he is capable of a very humorous and caricatured Siegfried, but instead the character was written and portrayed as almost strictly menacing. I do feel this is largely unfortunate, as the original Siegfried, played by Bernie Kopell, was always a useful and entertaining “evil” comedic reflection of Smart’s idiocy. I suppose the “real” menace helps propel the plot, but I do feel that in a comical battle of Good vs. Evil, both sides should be equally dumb.

The remaining supporting characters are generally enjoyable. The comedy void of the evil side is somewhat filled by some of the henchmen with Ken Davitian providing a goofy foil to Siegfried’s straight malevolence as his right hand man, Shtrarker.

Pages: 1 2

The Sporadical skeptically promotes the following:
SKEPTIC Reason Penn and Teller Frank Zappa