Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review: Get Smart (***)

Starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, and Alan Arkin
Directed by Peter Segal
Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence, and language
111 minutes

Get Smart is something of a miracle: a spoof film that proves to be as good as some of the movies it makes fun of. Not only is it funny; it’s also exciting, professionally directed, and effectively acted. It’s a pleasant surprise that, like Superhero Movie earlier this year, is in a disreputable genre. The general consensus on parodies is that any film that follows this pattern is unfunny tripe that deserves to be in the bottom of the barrel. Strange, then, that both Get Smart and Superhero Movie are prime examples of the opposite of this—films that are smart, witty, and surprisingly sweet and that deserve better treatment than what they are getting.

Maxwell Smart has always longed to be a field agent with CONTROL, a secret government agency that has been trying to defeat the equally secret KAOS, a group of rebels posing as government. Their demand: two hundred billion dollars from the U.S. government by six o’clock this evening. Their plot: buy nuclear weapons from a bakery in Russia that is secretly making uranium. Their consequence (unknown to the main characters, of course): kill the president at Disney Hall during the annual presidential concert.

At the film’s center is the brilliant comedic talent of Steve Carell, the current master of stony-faced comedy. Like Peter Sellers and Leslie Nielsen, Carell knows inside and out how to tell a joke. From sight gags to pop culture puns, Carell nails his lines every time, all the while giving a strangely affecting performance. You can see the elements of his acting capabilities within brilliant comic timing. The same can be said of Anne Hathaway, with whom Carell has great chemistry as hero to Hathaway’s sidekick.

Peter Segal’s direction is better than you’d expect from a comedy. The action scenes are exciting without being heavy-handed, and when the final set piece takes place, it doesn’t disappoint. One critic complained that it felt like a Michael Bay film, and I agree, but I welcome it, as well. A comedy that contains a Michael Bay-style action scene is worthy of recognition in my book.

Is Get Smart a masterpiece of comedy? No, and truth be told, I could pinpoint at least three this year alone that are better. In fact, Carell is the best thing about the film. In a season that brought us You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, an interminable, annoying piece of cow dung that ranks as the worst film so far this summer, the film doesn’t feel bloated or overhyped, and instead feels comfortable. And that’s just fine with me.

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