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Warner Bros. is hoping that their most recent venture into converting old TV shows into big budget movies will start a lucrative franchise for them, but Get Smart comes sporting a major existential crisis: What do you do when your whole reason for being no longer exists? Launched in 1965 at the height of both the Cold War and the James Bond craze, NBC's sitcom, Get Smart, provided welcome comic relief for a world that genuinely believed it was one stolen reel of microfilm away from nuclear Armageddon. But in 2008, with most of the summer moviegoing's key demographic (males, 13 - 21) not even born when the Berlin Wall came down, what on earth is the point of Get Smart anymore? Trust Warners to come up with a unique solution: They've made their 2008 movie based on a 1965 television show resemble nothing more than a 1997 action movie.
Not that a single living adolescent soul remembers the TV show, but for their parents, Don Adam's oblivious, idiotic, humiliation-proof secret agent Maxwell Smart is unrecognizable. Steve Carell's Smart is an efficient, dedicated intelligence analyst whose one flaw is that he's boring -- both to his colleagues and to the audience. The screenwriters' two concessions to giving him a character are a) to reveal in flashbacks that he used to be morbidly obese and b) to give him a desperate desire to be a field agent like Agent 23, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a man who has devoted his life to tanning his skin and bleaching his teeth.
After an apparently bloodless break-in at Control, the agency where Smart works, he's given field agent status, paired with the comely Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) and assigned a mission that comes straight out of The Peacemaker (1997), Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996), or even The Saint (1997): Recover nuclear weapons stolen from inside the former Soviet Union and sold to terrorists. In Bollywood, the most popular film genre is the masala, a great big mash-up of romance, some comic relief, a few action scenes, a sad mother, a family reunion, some more romance, a bit more action, and a few musical scenes before a wedding and then the credits. Get Smart is a Hollywood masala: There are jokes, some action scenes, tragic backstory, a life lesson about being nice, some more comedy, a message about staying true to yourself, a love story, a big action scene, the kiss, the end, cue the sequel. With so many moving parts, it would take a very talented director to ensure that every single one of them fails completely, but Get Smart has director Peter Segal on hand to ensure that they do.
The jokes are broadcast so far in advance that viewers, deprived of the original show's laugh track, are still cued when to chuckle. Carell seems gunshy about helming a big summer blockbuster, so he sticks to what he knows, which basically means he reheats his shtick from the television show that made him a star: The Office. Anne Hathaway tries gamely, but there's not much for her to do but pose and smirk. What's supposed to be Tracy-and-Hepburn banter between the two remains merely bickering. Rather than make you root for these lovers, their tetchy back-and-forth makes you want to separate them or send them to their rooms.
It didn't have to be this way. The Cold War may be over, but the War
on Terrorism is ripe for having its pretensions skewered and its sacred
cows tipped. For some reason, the filmmakers ignore those fertile
fields and instead try to wring more laughs out of the done-to-death
James Bond parody. And not even the Daniel Craig Casino Royale James Bond but the Moonraker-era
James Bond. It's admirable the way these filmmakers commit themselves
to the lost cause of parodying something that hasn't been taken
seriously since 1979, almost as if they live in a small town without TV
and with a video store that refuses to rent them any international spy
film made after Octopussy.
If this movie does badly, it's going to be baffling to the studio. After all, they spent $80 million, hired the star of The Devil Wears Prada, the star of The Office and the guy who directed The Nutty Professor 2. But what they shouldn't have done is go through the motions of remaking Get Smart -- they should have been smarter than that.