The flavor of the original has been diluted by being processed through Hollywood’s canning factory.
reviewed by Mark Burns
Spoof meets Hollywood action in this flubbed series-to-film remake.
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell: Horton Hears a Who!) is an analyst for CONTROL, an ultra-secret Cold-War relic spy outfit hidden in the basement of D.C.’s Smithsonian Castle. When old nemesis Siegfried (Terence Stamp: General Zod in Superman II) resurfaces at the helm of KAOS and knocks out CONTROL’s operatives, Smart is promoted to field agent and dispatched with superspy Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway: Becoming Jane Austen) to discover and foil KAOS’s dastardly plans.
The original series was a comic gem. Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, created an iconic character who bumbled fluidly through goofy plots steeped in that swinging ’60s era. Episodes exuded chemistry and colorful characters, benefiting from the skewed mind of co-creator Mel Brooks. Some of that carries over. Mel Brooks consulted, at least. But the flavor has been diluted by bland and dissociate humor after being processed through Hollywood’s canning factory.
Director Peter Segal is capable of quality comedy; he does have 50 First Dates to his credit. But Segal et. al. apparently don’t get Get Smart. They deviate from the quirk and contextual slapstick for mild shock gags and fat suit flashbacks. Where Segal should borrow from his Naked Gun experience, he instead borrows from his Nutty Professor days. Eccentricity is dissolved as Segal and company lean on the crutch of tired gags, and many jokes are lamely delivered. Several bits do strike funny, but even these are undercut by the previews. If you’ve seen one, you’ve probably already gleaned most of the best laughs.
Oddly, Get Smart ends up taking itself a bit too seriously. The occasional big-budget action and violence is executed capably, but a little too much so. Such adoption of blockbuster boom gives an incongruously hard edge to the physical comedy.
Action seems a ploy to punch up unremarkable story. Nods to the original series include a few prop relics, but little of the uniquely fun vibe. By lifting Smart out of his original era, they have lost much of the charm and color. And there’s no effort to wheedle out the eccentricities of our own time, aside from somewhat successful lampooning of the war room and present administration. Instead the plot is a lazy and simplistic assemblage of predictable cliché. This undercuts the funny, too, as the fun of surprise is, for the most part, lost.
Steve Carell tries hard to make his own version of Maxwell Smart shine; hints of Don Adams pop up here and there, but Carell generally melds the character into his own awkward stiffness. It’s more successful than Steve Martin’s attempt at tackling Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, but it still doesn’t click. Overall, the players lack chemistry. And forget wooden; the villainy is mere cardboard.
The challenge in adapting such an iconic series to film must be immense, but the filmmakers don’t really seem keen to try. They’ve merely taken its simplest skeleton and glommed on standard trifles with obvious little Post-It notes of homage. Those who’ve never seen an original episode might find it fun. But anyone who appreciates the original series will likely find it lacking.
Poor adventure comedy • PG-13 • 110 mins.