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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Get Smart

Starring:  Steve Carell ... Maxwell Smart

Anne Hathaway ... Agent 99

Dwayne Johnson ... Agent 23

Alan Arkin ... The Chief

Terence Stamp ... Siegfried

Terry Crews ... Agent 91

David Koechner ... Larabee

James Caan ... The President

Bill Murray ... Agent 13

Patrick Warburton ... Hymie

Masi Oka ... Bruce

Nate Torrence ... Lloyd

Ken Davitian ... Shtarker

David S. Lee ... Ladislas Krstic

Dalip Singh ... Dalip

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Synopsis: Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) works as an analyst at Control, a U.S. spy agency that was supposed to have closed after KAOS was defeated. However, KAOS is far from being dead. KAOS penetrates Control and steals the names of all their field agents, and they then begin to kill Control agents around the world. The Chief (Alan Arkin) promotes Maxwell Smart, designates him Agent 86, and partners him with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). Smart has always wanted to be a field agent, but he wanted to be partnered with the best, Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). Smart is given a little training and some spy-tech gadgets to help him do his job. Smart and Agent 99 have uncovered information of where Siegfried (Terence Stamp), the sinister head of KAOS is located, and they go after him to stop him from taking over the world.
by Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)

Review: (3 stars) by Chris Knight, National Post

Audiences have a right to feel some trepidation at the return of superspy Maxwell Smart. After all, the guy's signature gadget in the '60s TV show was a phone concealed in the heel of his shoe. The only thing more retro-diculous is that it was a rotary phone, which means anyone using it today would be stumped the moment they had to "press one for English."

Add to this the fact that the script for Get Smart is by Matt Ember and Tom J. Astle, whose last film, Failure to Launch, lived down to its name with critics. And director Peter Segal's underwhelming track record includes Naked Gun 3 and Nutty Professor 2. But as Smart himself proved in five seasons of televised espionage, well-meaning bumblers can come out ahead. It might sound counterintelligent to say so, but if you're choosing between this film and The Love Guru this weekend, the smart money is on Smart.

To begin with, Steve Carell doesn't try to fill the shoes (figuratively or cellularly) of the late Don Adams, who originated the role of Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of CONTROL (an acronym that stands for nothing). Adams played dumb-luck personified, with a nasal delivery said to be modelled after William Powell in The Thin Man. Carell speaks in his own voice and is an effective agent/analyst, although his 600-page reports on the goings-on at KAOS (another non-cronym) try the patience of his fellow agents. Still, he is so needed by the chief (Alan Arkin, who can bark out a one-liner better than anyone) that he is being held back from promotion to the field.

When CONTROL is compromised and its field agents licensed to be killed, the chief reluctantly promotes 86, pairing him with 99 (Anne Hathaway) and creating an age gap wider than the one between their numbers. I thought romantic friction between older guys and young women was de rigueur in the movies, but the writers concoct a complicated backstory in which 99, older than she looks, had plastic surgery after her identity was revealed. This is just one of a few "whatever" moments that doesn't bear close scrutiny, like wondering how they manage seven or eight costume changes while hiking through the Russian wilderness.

The basics of the story are simpler to follow. Siegfried of KAOS (a snarling Terence Stamp) is snapping up nuclear materials with an aim to blackmail the United States for a Dr. Evil-like sum of $200-billion. He is aided by a brace of henchmen. One is Dalip, played by wrestler Dalip Singh and clearly meant to be an homage to Jaws from the James Bond films - though without those metal teeth he is merely a 7-foot-2, 387-pound unstoppable killing machine with no bite. The other is Shtarker, played by Ken Davitian, best known as the fat guy in Borat - and viewers of that film will be relieved to know he does not take his clothes off in this one.

Together, Max and 99 play follow-the-uranium in a bid to stop Siegfried's plan, which takes its inspiration from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. (There may have been original sin, but there's no original evil.) They've got good chemistry, bantering and bickering like an old married couple, which is handy because it's their cover story. Providing adequate backup are Dwayne Johnson as 23, Bill Murray as 13 (prime-number agents get all the worst assignments), David Koechner as Larabee and James Caan as the President, who raises the chief's ire with his "nuc-u-lar" pronunciation.

The result is equal parts action and comedy, with the latter serving to consistently puncture the aspirations of the former. These deflations are well-timed to create the kind of pleasure and reward you get from popping a balloon at the midway - and like those games, if you miss it by that much, the prize is nothing. Smart doesn't skimp on its action, however, and the final chase through L.A. involving a banner-towing aircraft, a car and a diesel locomotive is a prime example of the old you-think-things-can't-get-any-worse-and-then-suddenly-they-do trick.

The original series was a goldmine of catchphrases, many of which get dusted off for this movie; and while the Get Smart fans in the audience will be salivating for them, it's not a necessary condition to enjoy the film.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed the Don Adams/Barbara Feldon TV show, and even appreciated the 1980 movie The Nude Bomb, probably because I was 11 years old and it had the word Nude in the title. I never saw the 1995 TV sequel, which according the DVD box ran for all of 158 minutes before being cancelled. But to borrow one of Smart's wisecracks, this time I was watching a long-retired spy being reinvented for a new era, walking the line between nostalgia and novelty - and loving it.


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