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Thursday, July 24, 2008

REVIEW - "Get Smart" (2008)

What is with comedies these days? I pondered this as I waltzed out of “Get Smart.” Yeah it had a few laughs, but it was hardly a great comedy and there were some gimmicks, jokes, slapstick—Whatever you want to call it, that simply weren’t funny. I definitely see the talent that was in the movie and I tried to enjoy it for what it was, but it was forced. It was clenched by the fact that I desperately wanted to laugh, but didn’t find the movie all that funny. Hopefully “Get Smart” does more for you, but there’s simply too little wit to be sampled from this film.

Steve Carrel plays the 2008 incarnation of Maxwell Smart, a man who gets promoted to field agent for Control after most of the agents are killed by Chaos. His new partner, Agent 99 (Anna Hathaway), is skeptical of his experience in the field; but the two press on to battle the forces of Chaos and their plan to terrorize America.

The story is simple and very much like the 1960s television series that the film is based off. The similarities end there. Steve Carrel plays a much different Maxwell Smart and Anna Hathaway plays a less friendly Agent 99. I considered this a good start because copying the original actors, Don Adams and Barbara Feldon, is pointless. Those actors did their thing a long time ago and it was good. Carrel is allowed to do his own thing here and the result is better than I expected. I feared too much of “The Office” would slip in to this movie, but he actually turns the character in to something new. Is the new Smart smart enough? Actually, yes. That’s also a downside.

The film’s material doesn’t do very much to capture the essence of Maxwell Smart. Smart was never really aware he screwed up in the television series and when he did he wrote it off with believable professionalism. In this film Smart plays a guy who actually does know what he’s doing from time to time, but when he screws up it’s a typical moment of embarrassment-turned-comedy. Case in point: Maxwell Smart allows hundreds of beads to drop on the floor and rolls his eyes at his buffoonery. Later it helps him when villains slip on the beads and are rendered unconscious. “I set that up.” Says Smart, with the utmost lack of confidence. The original Smart would have been completely confident that he set up a trap and would have believed it himself as well.

I’m not criticizing the way Carrel played the character, simply that he never touched what Maxwell Smart is. The irony to his name is that he thinks he’s brilliant and he maintains that even when he messes up. In this film, such humor is gone and Smart is a typical “Oops! I did this wrong, now laugh at me,” character. Not that there was that much to laugh at anyway.

Yes, I enjoyed the dart scene in the airplane washroom. I found the suicide banner to be hysterical, and Smart’s final solution for defeating Agent 23 was funny and very well set up. The problem with this list is the simple fact that I’m able to pick apart certain scenes I found amusing and line them up. Nothing was consistent— There were times I laughed, yes, but there were also times I was bored or even shaking my head at how unfunny a certain joke was. I even sat there wondering why there was such an explosive action sequence in the film. Why do we need to see a car chase on railroad tracks with an airplane hovering over it? The television series never had this. Have audiences’ attention spans become so short that an action sequence is thrown onscreen when we need it the least?

As I write this I still contemplate why so many comedies, such as this one, don’t fulfill me. In this case in particular I find it interesting that, in an attempt to create good humor, a studio remade a television series that actually was funny and then failed to reach its comedic level. What does that say about us? Is this generation filled to the rim with such bad humor that we’re going to have to settle for Seth Rogen’s filth and more Happy Madison productions? Or, like a joke that’s too smart for some people, do we simply not get what good humor is? I eagerly await the movie that gets me chuckling to the point of tears again. When all the Sandlers, Ferrells, Rogens and Carrels are gone, what will be next?

*1/2 out of ****

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