Saturday, June 21, 2008

Missed it by THAT much

The above line perfectly encapsulates Peter Segal's recent modernizing of the Mel Brooks and Buck Henry collaboration Get Smart. I liked Get Smart but I wanted to love it. The film pitches itself too broad, too mainstream. It does physical comedy well, even very well at times, but the editing often feels disjointed. The film zings in its character humor but I would've enjoyed more satire on the interplay of intelligence agencies rather than vomit or nut-shot jokes. Also missing is the rat-tat-tat of Borscht Belt style humor that only picks up every once in a while like when Steve Carrell's Maxwell Smart gives the alias of Nudnik Shpilkes.

Mind you for my qualms about the over-reliance on physical comedy are undone when that physical stuff focuses solely on Carrell. Carrell is a deft physical comedian, he manages to spin laughs out of something as simple as slowly moving his eyes while at a urinal. Carrell though is hardly the films only asset. The film utilizes it's ensemble very well (way better than Indiana Jones and the Old People Standing Around) everyone gets a chance to shine which is fitting given that one of the themes that seems to be running through the film is that every person has value. Alan Arkin will no doubt make Peter and Frank stand up and cheer when he sails a cross a boardroom to beat up the petulant vice-president. He also has a line at the end that is absolutely killer. Anne Hathaway gives just enough fun, slink and eventually warms into something resembling the incarnation of Barbra Feldon's Agent 99. Dwayne Johnson is fun as super Agent 23, though I wish given the twist about his character he had even more to do. In addition to these core four there is a never-ending parade of comic ringers who all get some good moments. Ken Davitian redeems himself for Meet the Spartans as the sidekick of the slick Sigfried. As for my favorite cameo? It's a two way tie between the shocking appearance of Agent 13 (played by a certain Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch regular) who is pretty sad about being stuck in a tree and then Patrick Warburton RULING COMPLETELY in an all too-brief appearance as a Brock Sampson-esque Hymie the Robot.
If there is one scene that perfectly encapsulates what works about the film it is a scene at about the film's midpoint that features Hathaway and Carrell competing on the dance-floor. She's with a Russian arms dealer and he is with a significantly larger female dance partner (Lindsay Hollister, who was actually at my screening at the Sherman Oaks Arc Light, I KNOW). A lesser film would make Max's partner weight the object of the joke. Instead it becomes a matter of which partnership can dance more impressively and we're on Hollister and Carrell's side. It's sweet and underlines an ongoing theme of rooting for the under-dog that the film has a penchant for.
In the end Get Smart is a good natured, solidly funny but not a classic. It rather smartly plays it's action straight so when Carrell does gun down a baddy or Alan Arkin heroically pilots a bi-plane, you can't help but chuckle. If the characters were constantly winking at the audience it would get pretty tedious pretty fast. Get Smart works more than it doesn't and that is enough for me.


neonspecs said...

I can't get myself to pay to see this movie because I love the show so much. I will eventually get it on Netflix.

Anyways, your title makes me think of how Smart always followed "that much" with "would you believe this much?" I love that! Ok, so that doesn't really make any sense unless you know what I am talking about. I hope you do.

El Gigante said...

I do indeed. There are nods to a lot of lines and ideas from the old show which I am a big fan of. With the exception of the "missed it by that much" most of them fly under the radar but they are definitely there. Alas, no appearance by one of my favorite Get Smart villains Simon the Likable (Ryan Seacrest anyone?). I am incapable of hearing that name without imagining Don Adams say it.