GET SMART (2008) - DVD review

Not funny outrageous or funny gross, but funny cute, funny nice, funny mild.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Note: In the following joint review, John and Jason provide their opinions of the movie, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.

The Movie According to John:
I've said this before but it bears repeating: Comedy is a funny business. What makes one person laugh uproariously may totally bore another person. With the exception of a few outright slapstick gags, the new "Get Smart" is a pretty tame affair, most of the jokes done deadpan. For example, Maxwell Smart is left standing on the sidewalk in front of a store, having just been dissed by the beautiful Agent 99 the first time they meet. He's staring after her in dismay when a fellow from the store pushes a cart over his foot. Smart doesn't overtly react. We can see the pain in his eyes for this second insult. "Am I invisible?" he asks the world, and quietly limps off. It's a melancholy humor that would have made Chaplin proud.

Warner Bros.' 2008 remake of the 1960s' "Get Smart" television series attempts to reference and pay tribute to as much as possible that we remember about the old show (which itself was a spoof of the Bond series), while not being a direct imitation. Star Steve Carell bears a passing resemblance to TV's Don Adams in height, hair, and build, but Carell tries not to copy him. Although you'll find the old catch phrases here, like "Sorry about that, Chief," "Missed it by that much," and "Would you believe....," Carell goes out of his way not to use Adams's familiar inflections. Thus, with Carell they sound almost like throwaway lines, which might disappoint old fans but proves the new show really is striving for something different, while not forsaking the past altogether.

Likewise, Carell's Maxwell Smart is still a secret agent for CONTROL, but he's not the bumbling idiot he used to be. He's actually a pretty bright fellow who just happens to be out of his league, having just been promoted out of desperation from being a persnickety analyst to a full-fledged field agent because there was no one else available. So, yeah, he's still bumbling around doing goofy things, but it isn't because he's too dumb to figure things out but because he simply doesn't know what he's doing.

There's not much of a plot in this updated "Get Smart," which is appropriate to the nature of the picture. Like its television predecessor, the story is merely a line on which to hang the gags and set up the repartee among the characters. In this case, the first third or more of the movie provides a background on how Smart got to be where he is. In the old TV show, Smart merely showed up full blown: He was a field agent, a spy, for the U.S. espionage agency CONTROL, and his girlfriend, Agent 99, was a fellow agent. But perhaps in anticipation of the movie version being the first in a proposed series, we get some history: We learn that Smart was not always a field agent. At the beginning of the movie, he is a CONTROL analyst; he works behind a desk preparing data and crunching numbers, and he has no romance with 99. It is only when the evil KAOS organization infiltrates CONTROL headquarters and compromises almost all of its agents that the agency has to enlist Smart as a field agent, pairing him with their only other viable agent, 99. Thus, Smart is pressed into service and thrown together with Agent 99. Together, Smart and 99 must track down the perpetrators of the CONTROL break-in, which takes them to colorful locations throughout Europe and America.

The cast measures up to the task. Carell, as I've already mentioned, seems perfectly fit for the role of Maxwell Smart, physically and temperamentally. He is the inept Smart, true, yet he is never the complete fool. As Agent 99 we have Anne Hathaway, who is also well cast, although she is noticeably much younger than Carell by some twenty-odd years. The discrepancy is neatly covered in the film, though, so don't worry about it. She's cool, calm, beautiful, charming, and as funny as anyone else in the film. As the handsome and dashing Agent 23 we get Dwayne Johnson, also perfect in the role of an ego-inflated world's greatest superspy. Best of all, though, is Alan Arkin as the Chief. The actor has always been funny, and his character's barely contained rage is a highlight of the movie. Peter Segal ("Naked Gun 33 1/3," "Anger Management," "The Longest Yard") directs the film in a pleasantly amiable, low-key style.

A few other actors don't fare as well with their characters, however. Terrence Stamp plays the villainous Siegfried, and he seems in a different picture altogether, playing the part so seriously you'd think he was in a Bourne adventure. Then there's James Caan, who plays a blockheaded President of the United States so broadly that his behavior seems at odds with the more subdued humor of Carell, Hathaway, and Arkin. And poor Bill Murray gets relegated to a cameo as Agent 13, the agent who is always hanging out in unlikely places, in this case a tree. We're more or less just supposed to say, "Oh, look, that's Bill Murray, isn't it?," and then he's gone.

Anyway, the bottom line for any comedy is whether or not it's funny. This will, of course, vary from viewer to viewer, but for me "Get Smart" is very funny. Not funny outrageous or funny gross in the Farrelly brothers or Austin Powers manner, but funny cute, funny nice, funny mild. Call it what you will, it made me laugh more than almost any other film this year. That's the biggest compliment I can pay it.

John's film rating: 7/10

The Movie According to Jason:
I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. The big-budget, big-screen adaptation of TV's "Get Smart" isn't nearly the disaster some critics have made it out to be. Yes, it's not high concept or terribly brilliant. The eventual "twist" is painfully obvious halfway through the film. Some characters are abandoned for prolonged periods of time. And the humor can border on the juvenile (though never vulgar).

When Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell of TV's "The Office") is paired with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway, "The Devil Wears Prada") following an attack on the supersecret headquarters of not-so-secret United States intelligence organization CONTROL, they find themselves in Russia, hot on the heels of stolen nuclear material. But Smart is only an analyst and a bubbling one at that while 99 has years of experience under her belt. Can she rein him in enough to keep them both alive, find the bad guys and play straight man to Smart's innocent jokes?

From its opening moments, it's quite obvious "Get Smart" is intent on doing on thing: making us laugh. Everything else is secondary. As the credits roll over Smart preparing for his day, we see post it notes reminding him to carry out certain tasks. The best one? A reminder, on an empty goldfish bowl, to buy a new goldfish. Those are the kind of jokes littering the film and, quite honestly, the production is better for it. There's no need to sully the good name of the original series with poop jokes or double entendres.

Humorous sequences, both big and small, run throughout the film. No character is adverse to being included in the fun, from Chief (Alan Arkin, who surprisingly gets a lot of screen time in the finale) to Terence Stamp as the leader of evil organization KAOS. While most of the comedy works, two techs in the CONTROL headquarters come off as gratuitous, unnecessary, and ultimately banal. It's not the fault of actors Masi Oka and Nate Torrence; their characters, Bruce and Lloyd, are designed to be comic relief when the movie doesn't need any comic relief. (It should be noted these two are spun off in their own direct to DVD movie, most likely explaining their inclusion here.)

However, this is Carell's movie to carry, comedy-wise. His deadpan delivery and complete allegiance to the material transcends whatever stupidity Smart goes through, allowing us to see he isn't consciously trying to be funny (like an Adam Sandler). In effect, this makes him the best "name" actor to take the role. It's enough the script by Tom Astle and Matt Ember packs enough jokes into every scene; Carell doesn't need to do anything but keep a straight face and recite lines.

The other component to his performance is Hathaway. She comes off as having to be the mother figure here, not allowed to have much fun. In fact, it is only through a dancing sequence that we see her face light up. But there remains a trueness to her, underneath all the fancy outfits and gadgets and responsibility. If there is one deficiency in the role, it is the lack of development for Agent 99. With the exception of one scene, all her dialogue revolves around Smart, depriving us of getting to actually know her in any meaningful way. On the upside, this gives a potential sequel a lot of territory to explore.

I have to comment, for just a moment, about the middle of the movie. As Smart and 99 scurry around Russia, we presume the Chief and an entire cast of characters (including The Rock's Agent 23) are performing support functions back at CONTROL. After all, when Jack Bauer is out in the field, we check in with Chloe and the rest of the CTU gang every couple of minutes. The script completely forgets about the secondary characters, opting to show them continuing to recover from a KAOS attack to being fully operational. Couldn't a couple scenes have been thrown in showing Bruce, Lloyd or Chief getting electrocuted by a malfunctioning computer? Something to remind us of the people left behind.

My other concern with the script is it tips its hand far, far too early. Maybe it's a symptom of the genre it's working in, but every single spy story has an inevitable mole. "24" is notorious for having poor human resources vetting for its government workers, so it should come as no shock here how the film actually ends. All we get is a ten-second snippet of a phone call between Siegfried (that's Stamp) and his boss--the voice electronically masked, of course--and I pinned down who the ultimate bad guy would end up being. It goes hand in hand with being away from CONTROL for so long.

I'm not usually one to criticize a director's choices, but Peter Segal needs to figure how to inject energy into physical action sequences. Specifically, how not to have a thousand different edits inside of two minutes of film. A fight involving Smart, 99, and a Russian baddie is despicable with its intense close-ups of legs flying, bodies tumbling backward, and a flurry of other movements. We're never able to get a handle on who is doing what to whom, leading to a very boring scene. (I'm not apt to blame editor Richard Pearson since he has worked on the latest "Bourne" film, the big-screen version of "Rent," and "United 93," among other films, none of which had this issue.)

Which brings us back to the story itself. There's only an A-plot, nothing else. No tangents, nothing to make the movie richer or deeper. In a way, that's okay. With no superfluous fluff to divert our attention from the main plot, "Get Smart" tends to be a tight production, aside from the already mentioned issue of Bruce and Lloyd. The plot may not be terribly deep or hold the answers to the universe (or even be particularly inspired), but it doesn't need to be. Much like "The Incredible Hulk" or even "Iron Man," "Get Smart" has no ambition to change the world, only to provide some sort of entertainment for a certain amount of time. And on that count, the finished product succeeds in spades.

This is a fun little flick, very close to being family friendly, with only one repeated curse word that I can recall. There is no blood and only one potential obstacle for nudity. A little dense for younger kids and not full of slapstick comedy like "Kung Fu Panda," "Get Smart" should work for anyone over the age of twelve. What can I say? I laughed my ass off the entire time.

Jason's film rating: 6/10

I saw this movie twice in two different theaters, once in regular film projection and again in digital projection. Both times it looked unnaturally soft, and then it occurred to me to find out how it was shot. As I suspected, the filmmakers made it mostly in digital (Panavision Genesis cameras). So, don't expect the movie to look any better on disc than it did in a motion-picture theater.

The colors vary in this 1.85:1 ratio, anamorphic transfer. Sometimes they're natural and glistening with realistic vitality; much of the time, though, they're either dull, overly contrasted, glossy, or dark. There are decent black levels, but that's about it. One often notices a minor blur, and then, all of a sudden, the whole picture can look sharp as a tack. I dunno.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is adequate for the job, but it will hardly knock anybody's socks off (if that's your idea of good time). The best part about it comes during the Warner Bros. opening logo, which displays quite a lot of surround. After those few seconds, the soundtrack exhibits little that might impress one. Most of the sound comes at us from the front, with a few gunshots rebounding in the rear channels, along with a little (very little) musical ambience enhancement. There is a reasonably strong bass during the film's occasional explosions, and there is a fairly good dynamic impact and an adequately quick transient response. Still, there aren't many such moments. Largely, the soundtrack reproduces dialogue from the center speaker and front-oriented background music from the front center and front sides. Basically, the audio sounds like that which might accompany any good made-for-television movie.

Disc one of this Two-Disc Special Edition contains the movie, plus an optional "Comedy Optimization Mode" (or "Smart Takes"). Whenever a telephone-booth screen pops up, you have the choice of watching an alternate take of the scene you're in. It's another way of the filmmakers providing deleted scenes, this time in a more clever fashion than usual. Beyond that, you get a few promos and trailers at start-up; twenty-eight scene selections; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Disc two contains the rest of extras, which don't amount to much, about thirty or so minutes of things. First, there a ten-minute featurette, "The Right Agent for the Right Job: Behind-the-Scenes Training," on the casting of Carell and Hathaway. Next is a six-minute featurette, "Max in Moscow!," on the film's location shooting. After that is a three-and-a-half-minute featurette, "Language Lessons: Spotlight on Linguistics," with Carell being silly. Then, there's a five-and-half-minute gag reel of flubs; and a three-minute sneak peek at a direct-to-DVD spin-off, "Spying on Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control." Things conclude with a bonus digital copy compatible with iTunes and Windows media devices, and a two-disc, slim-line keep case enclosed in a slipcover with a holographic picture on the front.

Parting Thoughts:
Hollywood, always quick to imitate anything they think will make a buck, has given us no end of television remakes, from "Car 54, Where Are You?" to "Sgt. Bilko," "The Honeymooners," and Speed Racer." Most of these retreads are pretty bad, with only an occasional "Addams Family" recapturing the old magic. However, in the case of "Get Smart" I think the movie will satisfy fans of the old TV series as well as please new audiences unfamiliar with the old show. "Get Smart" is funny, clever, nostalgic, up-to-date, And no one could have pulled off the title role better than Carell.

"Personal best!" --Maxwell Smart


Film Value