This time, Max really is 'Smart'

Staff WriterJune 20, 2008 

  • Grade: C

    Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, James Caan

    Director: Peter Segal

    Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

    Web site: getsmartmovie.warnerbros.com

    Theaters: Apex: Beaver Creek. Cary: Crossroads. Chapel Hill: Lumina. Timberlyne. Varsity. Durham: Northgate. Southpoint. Wynnsong. Garner: Towne Square. White Oak. Morrisville: Park Place. Raleigh: Brier Creek. Carmike. Grande. Mission Valley. North Hills. Six Forks. Wakefield. Roxboro: Palace. Smithfield: Smithfield.

    Rating: PG-13 (some rude humor, action violence and language)

This weekend, people will have a choice: They can either see the mediocre blockbuster comedy starring Steve Carell or the mediocre blockbuster comedy starring Mike Myers. Since Carell is also the star of certainly-not-mediocre NBC sitcom "The Office," and Myers has been out of circulation for so long -- only turning in a vocal appearance whenever there's a "Shrek" sequel -- people will likely gravitate more toward Carell's flick. But, really, no one wins.

Onto the business at hand -- trying to find something to say about Carell's film, "Get Smart," the big-screen redux of the '60s TV spy spoof. Needless to say, Carell is stepping in the bumbling shoe-phones of star Don Adams.

But this time around, the persistently straight-faced Carell plays Smart as someone who is actually smart. A pencil-pushing analyst for top-secret, U.S. government agency CONTROL, he yearns to be out in the field, like his super-heroic mentor, Agent 23 (a wasted Dwayne Johnson). He gets his chance after CONTROL headquarters gets attacked by the KAOS crew (led by a snippy Terence Stamp, as the movie's Siegfried) and someone is needed to go undercover to infiltrate their operation. With the aggressive Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) as his partner, the green Smart dives headfirst, often injuring himself along the way.

Much like the actual show, which absurdly mocked the Cold War paranoia of the era, the movie attempts some kind of lighthearted satire about these war-on-terror times. The movie even has James Caan with a cockamamie Southern accent as our inept commander-in-chief. But you may be more transfixed on how rare the jokes and gags fly through this thing. The first half of "Smart" is like pulling teeth, with the mismatched Carell and Hathaway sniping and griping at each other as you wait for something funny to happen.

Fortunately, the second half is less grueling, as director Peter Segal, who has helmed star vehicles for many a comedian (Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy, among them), actually begins to treat the movie like the stupid-fun ride it's supposed to be. It's like halfway through, someone reminded him they should actually emulate the intentionally and enjoyably silly TV show they're remaking.

Screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, who wrote that Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker rom-com "Failure to Launch" (that should tell you something right there!), throw in a whole bunch of stuff from the old TV show, from catchphrases to bit characters to a cameo from Bernie Kopell, the original Siegfried. But it's a movie that takes a long time to be genuinely nutty. It takes a full hour for the filmmakers to finally realize how much comic potential they have in Alan Arkin playing the gung-ho CONTROL chief.

It appears that "Get Smart" is a comedy that exudes more ineptitude than the characters and situations that are in it. But, of course, it's either this or "The Love Guru." So I shouldn't complain too much.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com, (919) 829-4760 or blogs.newsobserver.com/home

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