' ' Cinema Romantico: Get Smart

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Get Smart

I'd be hard pressed to recount for you the plot of this cinematic update on the 1960's TV detective show. Uh, let's see....Maxwell Smart (Steve Carrell) is an analyst for some government organization called CONTROL but is quickly promoted to Agent and is teamed with striking Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to foil the plans of some crazed guy named, uh, Ziegfield(?)....Siegfried(?).....Roy(?)....(Terrence Stamp) who works for some evil organization called KAOS and has nuclear weapons, or something, and wants to blow up the world, or something, and so Max and Agent 99 fly to Russia (I think I remember seeing the Kremlin) and then possibly somewhere else or maybe they just head straight back to L.A. for the final comedy/action setpiece where things are all set right. I think that about does it.

On the other hand, I can specifically recall the impromptu dance-off between Max and Agent 99 and their respective partners at a mansion which has nothing to do with anything but is a riot. (By the way, I've come to the conclusion that Steve Carrell likes to dance. A lot. He dances in this, he danced in "Dan in Real Life", he danced in "Little Miss Sunshine", he danced in "The 40 Year Old Virgin", and even danced back in his Daily Show days.) I can specifically recall Max giving his 400+ page briefing to his fellow Control employees at the start and how the line "They're bad guys, but they're people too" made me unleash not just a laugh but a high-pitched cackle. I can specifically recall how much I enjoyed the script bringing back a particular plot point from early in the movie during a dramatic sequence later in the movie. I can specifically recall how much I enjoyed Agent 13, though I would never dream of revealing Agent 13's identity.

Do you see where I'm going with this? The plot is a thread for wacky hijinks, nothing more, and fully embraces it.

It puts Steve Carrell's ever-burgeoning skill front and center. While most of our top-line comic actors are from the in-your-face, proud-to-be-loud school (Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn) Carrell is decidedly old school. He is all deadpan grace. There are a couple raunchy physical gags in "Get Smart", yes, but only a couple and they are nowhere near the movie's best moments. It's at its finest when Carrell is simply doing what he does, like a verbal tete-a-tete with Terrence Stamp's character.

He also plays it differently from other infamous cinematic detectives such as Peter Sellers as Jacque Closeau or Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin. Those two were so caught up in their perceived brilliance they were oblivious to the fact they were completely clueless. But Carrell's Max Smart isn't clueless, though he sometimes fears he is, and so he forever displays a confident facade while an uncertainty drifts just below the surface. For instance, there is a crucial moment where someone wants to know the location of a bomb and Max replies, "Would you believe the piano?" Delivered with assurance, though also with a question mark.

It is because of this incessant need to do good without him ever being 100% sure he will do good that assists the movie since we feel genuine concern for Max when he finds himself in dire straits. It's a neat trick and one, I think, only a few actors could manage.

Less effective is the inevitable romantic subplot between Max and Agent 99. Anne Hathaway looks good, no doubt, and her acting is solid when she's, say, kicking a bad guy in the face or reacting to some foul-up caused by her fellow agent but neither she nor Carrell can sell their screenplay-induced chemistry. (Let's face it, Max and Agent 99 are no Sydney and Vaughn.) The movie tries to forcefeed it and it just doesn't work.

But then "Get Smart" is intelligent enough to not devote too much time to the romance and just when you feel yourself drifting away there's a moment that pulls you back in.

It's not perfect. If you buy a ticket at matinee price, you'll be satisfied. But at evening price....

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