Sunday, June 22, 2008

Get Smart

Dear Hollywood types,

I really don’t care if you feel the need to labor over the beginnings of Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Zorro, and all manner of superheroes, turning them into mournful, lonely souls whose isolation and despair lead them to carry out acts of vigilante justice. I’m cool with that. But could you, at least as a favor to those of us who enjoy a good chuckle here and there, refrain from burdening our iconic comedy characters with these troubles? Get Smart, the television show upon which this recent Steve Carell vehicle is based, was never, like, great or anything, but it was, for the most part, a consistently funny little cartoon of a show whose Maxwell Smart was a bumbler due as much to his indifference as his incompetence. He was cocksure, steady, and consistent in the face of all manner of troubles, and it was these qualities that led to some genuinely funny moments. In this film version, you’ve, for reasons I can only guess at, saddled Maxwell Smart with unrequited desires, a desperate longing to become a field agent within the spy agency known as Control, and turned him into a bookish analyst who is, we’re told, out of his depth in the field. So, as this wimpy, nerdy version of Maxwell Smart proves himself worthy of Field Agent status through the plot of this film, you’ve given us, yet again, a fucking origin story.

Now that you’ve shown us where Maxwell Smart comes from, what’s up next, guys? Do we get to suffer through 80 minutes of Groucho Marx’s father abandoning him at an early age, leading him to develop a caustic wit as a defense mechanism against a harsh world that clearly doesn’t want him? How about a Naked Gun prequel that details the young Frank Drebin’s ascent through a hilariously hellish Police Academy (Steve Guttenberg could play the tough, but fair instructor who passes the young Drebin because, while he’s stupid, he’s sure got a lot of heart!)? Or perhaps we get to see a jilted young woman wailing at the altar while her father holds her and says, “I love you, Lucy.” I heartily encourage you all to grow a pair. Plant your fucking feet. Please stop telling us how things came to be, and start telling us what happens after.

I didn’t hate this movie version of Get Smart, though it was all over the place. It had a funny bit here or there (most of them came from the original show, but I won’t blame you for sticking with good material instead of coming up with good, new stuff. That’s hard!) The action climax of this film was genuinely involving. It was well-done, the stakes made sense, and it had an exciting, even funny, kinetic energy that propelled it forward to a logical, again, funny, conclusion (I will note that it was way too loud; the blaring of the obnoxious score nearly ruined it). I really enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance. I thought she showed very well-attuned comic timing in her role as the straight woman to Smart’s bumbling and that she and Steve Carell had a very nice rapport. This, no doubt, led to my finding the climax being as involving as it was, despite the fact that, for most of the film, I was disappointed that the jokes were so stale and (since the comedy wasn’t working) the narrative was so pat. Good job guys!

But, I mean, come on. We’re here for the yuk-yuks, and most of your jokes seem like bits that didn’t make the cut from either Austin Powers or The Naked Gun movies. The Get Smart television show has a pretty clear ancestral relationship to both of these franchises, so setting the bar as low as you do and branding it with the legacy of motherfucking Buck Henry feels, not only pathetic, but somewhat malevolent. There’s a moment where Terrence Stamp as the ultra bad guy, tries to blackmail the United States for 200 billion dollars and, despite the fact that the moment is played entirely straight, you could pretty much feel everyone in the theater sharing a chuckle about Dr. Evil’s one millllllion dollars. Did you not care? Are you just tone-deaf? And what’s with the fact that your movie had absolutely zero target for satire? You weren’t lampooning anything, and, in fact, had some weird, almost didactic moments kind-of shoveled in there about understanding that our enemies are human and that being the key to success in war or something. But you didn’t think to, like, ever show the opposite view and how it’s doomed to (maybe, fingers-crossed, if you could be bothered, hilarious) failure? And, forgive me if I'm overstepping here, but why on Earth would you seriously try to play any of this film straight?

Look, I get it. We’re living in the Judd Apatow universe now, the one where it says that comedies require some underlying dramatic tension and honest character work. And this is something I, generally, agree with. There should be, at the very least, a certain amount of "dramatic relief" to the comedies you’re creating. And I’ll give you credit that you didn’t show a teary-eyed Maxwell Smart realizing what a boob he’d been and vowing to change or grow up or whatever, since it’s common for these modern comedies to mistake such unbearable treacle for conflict and resolution. But I also firmly believe that the drama should be absolutely entwined with the comedy you’re making. If you’re working in a two dimensional space, as the character of Maxwell Smart most certainly is, your drama must exist in that same space. Otherwise, you’ve made the mistake of trying to turn a cartoon into a real boy. I submit that you leave that nonsense to the Blue Fairy, and, next time, take aim at something--anything!--before you fire.

David Wester



Q said...

I saw the tv show.
It was okay. Did not think I was up for a movie. I really do not care how Smart became an agent.
I will save the popcorn for something else.

Get Smart Movie said...

This is very good action plus adventure movie directed by Peter Segal. Larry Miller has done very good role in the film. I am become fan of him only from this movie.