Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Get Smart' is a great update of classic show

Get Smart (2008)
Starring: Steve Carrel, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Dwayne Johnson, Terence Stamp, Ken Davitian, and Dalip Singh
Director: Steven Segal
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When the international crime syndicate and freelance spy-ring KAOS gains a complete roster of field agents working for the most secret branch of the United States intelligence services, CONTROL, the Chief (Arkin) promotes eager-beaver analyst Maxwell Smart (Carrel) to field agent. Together with the only other agent not compromised by KAOS, Agent 99 (Hathaway), he sets out to discover what notoriouls KOAS agent Seigfried (Stamp) intends to do with stolen radioactive materials.

When "Get Smart" was released in 2008, it got bad reviews. As with several other comedies from around that time--"Balls of Fury" and "Nacho Libre" spring to mind immediately--the bad reviews were more a reflection of critical cluelessness than any probems with the movie itself. Too many movie critics had their heads too far up their asses to see that this film provided a fun update of the 1960s spy spoof that modernizes the characters and conflicts without feeling the need to denigrate and mock the original show (as was done in movies like "Starsky and Hutch"), or all but ignore the original show, except for a little lip service (as was done with the "Mission: Impossible" movies). This film takes all that was good about the TV series, even to the point where some of the spirit can stil be felt, and delivers it in a package that both those who love the old show and those who have never even heard of it can enjoy.

While I will grant the criticsm that the movie never gets quite as crazy as the TV show could be at its finest, and that only a few of the dialogue exchanges approach Mel Brooks and Buck Henry level writing (like the "if you were CONTROL you'd be dead" scene between Maxwell Smart and Seigfried, as featured in one of the previews), but the movie would have been a miserable failure if it had aped the old show. There is only one Mel Brooks and whenever writers try to copy him, they always fail spectacularly.

The actors portraying the various familiar characters are not attempting mimic those who have come before. Like Roger Moore didn't do a Sean Connery impersonation when he took over as James Bond, nor does Steve Carell do Don Adams when he plays Maxwell Smart. The character is obviously the same character, but the Carell gives his own spin on him. The same is true of Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 and Alan Arkin as The Chief. The characters are recreated, but still recognizable.

Another very smart move done by the film's creators (particularly score composer Trevor Rabin) was to retain the old "Get Smart" theme and weave it throughout the soundtrack music. They were smart to enough to recognize that the "Get Smart" theme by Irving Szathmary is one of the best pieces of television music ever written and that a "Get Smart" update wouldn't be complete without it. Just like the actors took the characters and reinvented them, so did Trevor Rabin take the spy music second only in fame to the "James Bond Theme" and make it his with a number of playful and thrilling variations as the movie unfolds. (The soundtrack music is available from, and the disc contains several more of Rabin's variations on the theme that don't appear in the film but which are very creative and worthwhile. Even if you don't see the movie, the soundtrack is worth owning, because this fun music stands just fine on its own.

From the first teaser ad for the "Get Smart" film, I was looking forward to seeing it. As longer previews appeared, I started getting concerned that it was going to be another adaptation/update that was going to be intended more as an excersize in mocking the original show, or too mean-spirited to really capture the "Get Smart" feel. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded, and the film turned out to be a fun, breezy upate of the classic TV show... a laugh- and action-filled spy spoof that's well worth seeing. (It may not be perfect--there are a couple of instances I found myself thinking, "Waitaminnit... why isn't Smart reacting to that comment?" and "Why did the leap to THAT conclusion?"-- but the flaws are few and minor.)

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