In something of an upset, underdog Get Smart out-grossed its massively over-publicized competitor for the weekend, The Love Guru. Unfortunately, Get Smart can be taken as justification for why we need to move beyond a two-party system.
As Maxwell Smart, Steve Carell plays Steve Carell. He doesn’t try to do a Don Adams, whose persnickety, secret-agent droll has become iconic; but Steve Carell doesn’t really try much at all. Like Alan Arkin, who plays his boss, he’s allowing himself to be typecast—at least when it comes to these big-budget bores (although Get Smart is, at the very least, better than Evan Almighty). He’s funny here at times, but all the roles are underwritten—they’re all clichés, which probably worked on television because the old show was parodistic. The movie, on the other hand, is less a spy parody than it is a lackluster spy thriller sprinkled with humor (which is a redundancy anyway: How can you make a good super-spy picture without humor?). As Smart’s partner, Anne Hathaway is, as usual, efficient but uninspired—although, to her credit, her role is probably the most shopworn and arbitrary.
The only real stand-out is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who a few years ago was believed to be Schwarzenegger’s successor. But he’s wittier than “classic era” Ah-nold. Maybe he’s a “postmahdern” Ah-nold: His very persona is a self-conscious parody of brawn, but in a workmanlike, uncondescending way. Light entertainment is his element, but Get Smart is probably too light even for him. The plot about nuclear material in Russia is negligible, as is the stern villain, who Terrence Stamp plays too sternly. Stamp acts with a torpor indicative of contractual obligations. The writers have cheated us by giving Smart’s agency, CONTROL, a generic, direct-to-video nemesis.
Perhaps the studio categorized this movie as a comedy to conceal the lack of creativity in its script. There are some funny lines, but, except for some inter-fight frenching and a rat squirming in Smart’s shirt while he’s navigating a laser security grid, the wealth of visual humor inherent in the genre is either neglected or underdone. There’s little audacity and no novelty—like a Steven Seagal sequel sprinkled with snickers. Even when they were tasteless or groan-producing, the Austin Powers movies at least reveled in the absurdity and wackiness that have been the legacy of the Bond films. There’s nothing tasteless in Get Smart, but nor is there any revelry, hyperbole, or any curlicues either, and the filmmakers seem to think it sporting to dodge their own set-ups. They’re like major-league pitchers throwing to little-league catchers. Agent 99 (Hathaway) recently underwent plastic surgery to alter her identity—99’s apparently older than Hathaway looks. This backstory stews for a few scenes, leaving the audience to eagerly anticipate what her former self might have looked like—maybe she was ugly, or 60, or a man, even? No; just another pretty girl. Bummer. Even the gadgets would underwhelm Q; he’d scold CONTROL’s techies (one’s Asian and the other’s a fatty—shocker!) for lacking imagination. I scold the filmmakers for not affording their characters witty places to oh-so-conveniently use their trinkets. (Smart does use his pocket-knife crossbow fairly often, but when the arrows shot into his cheek or pierced his earlobes, I didn’t laugh—I squirmed.)
Get Smart probably deserves to be the best-grossing comedy of this weekend, but to defeat Mike Myers’ scatological blubber with a movie that plays like Austin Powers-lite is a dubious achievement.