Sunday, June 22, 2008

Get Smart

The New Dynamic Duo

Just to set the record straight, I've been a fan of the original series when it played on local television many years ago when I was a kid, so I've been weaned on Don Adams as the original Maxwell Smart aka Agent 86 in Get Smart, and if I had the cash, I would not bat an eyelid to shell out good money for one of my beloved television series that I follow religiously. For one yet to be exposed to the glitz and glamourous world of James Bond, I thought Maxwell Smart had all the coolest gadgets that a spy would possess, and have a competent agent/partner in Agent 99, then played by Barbara Feldon. And who can forget that catchy theme song and the hypnotic opening and closing sequence where he makes his way to and from the CONTROL headquarters?

When the movie was announced, I sort of celebrated the casting of Steve Carell. He resembled a bit like the late Don Adams (except for, pardon this, being a little wider on the girth), but nonetheless being the comedian as he was, I thought he would be perfect in the movie version, which served as a Redux of sorts in an updated re-telling (as I would prefer to imagine it to be) of sorts, as Maxwell is still an Analyst within CONTROL, and itching to get out as a field agent. So like James Bond's Casino Royale, we go back to basics, but yet retaining whatever's necessary for a modern audience to get chummy with the lead character. Even Barbara Feldon too got a cameo (even though through a photograph only), which weaved in perfectly for the movie version of Anne Hathaway to take over.

Forget the Johnny English and Pink Panther remakes, which the former was trying hard to emulate past success stories from television series such as this one, and the latter being a tad more slapstick than it warranted. Get Smart the movie actually captured perfectly the essence of the television series, while yet paying it the respect of a series well done. I can't help but to tear a little as I see the car that Don Adam drove, the cell-phone shoe, the original cone of silence as well as what I would like to think as the original suit Adams donned in the series. All these get fitting tribute early in the film, before making way for Carell's version to take over.

So what's appealing in the new movie? For starters, it played a lot on Maxwell Smart being Smart. In the series there was no question of him being a victim of circumstance with Lady Luck smiling on him, and here it managed to combine that with proper intelligence of his analyst background, so much so that The Chief (Alan Arkin) had to reject him being out in the field, but serving his organization by sieving through intelligence for their field agents. So our updated Smart actually has a lot more brains, and in the brawn department, he's not a pushover either.

Then the story doesn't dumb down too much, and had quite an even keel in providing mass entertainment without condescending the audience. That, I felt, was quite difficult to achieve given that you're trying to make people laugh, and the temptation is there to slapstick everything to elicit a few cheap chuckles. So in trying to avoid situations like that, I tip my hat to. It's no rocket science of a story, but there's enough properly designed set action pieces to entertain, and not make it look all too stupid. It had its fair share of spoofs from Entrapment to mentions of peer movies like James Bond, down to even borrowing an obvious Jaws-like villain.

But what really worked and made the movie special, was the chemistry between Carell and Hathaway. Just like how Adams and Feldon seemed so natural with each other, Carell and Hathaway worked wonders and brought back the magic as the Agents with a tinge of romantic / sexual chemistry between them. They have surely taken over the mantle and proven worthy of succeeding the original duo, and that's coming from a long time fan of the series myself. Supporting the duo are plenty of surprise casting like Bill Murray's short cameo as Agent 13, and David Koechner who I've mentioned before, is making some headway in recent comedies. The Rock had some pretty comical moments as well (I just loved his character's introduction) but the one who took the cake was James Caan's role as The President, modelled so clearly after George W Bush, and no holds barred mimicry of his reading to schoolchildren during a crisis, his mispronunciation of "nuclear" and plenty of other sight gags.

In the villain department, they come naturally from KAOS, this time with Terence Stamp heading the organization as Siegfried and Ken Davitian as his sidekick Shtarker, and we learn that they have laid low since the Cold War ended. Now their diabolical plans include handing out nuclear weapons to states which are non-friendly to the USA, and with activation codes granted, there is no question where those bombs will be heading towards. Like the first Mission: Impossible movie, you won't need much time before you guess who the secret villain will be once he appears on screen as well.

Boasting an excellent soundtrack which began with ABBA's Take A Chance On Me to Madonna's 4 Minutes, given the way things developed in the movie, I won't be surprised that there would be a sequel in store should the movie rake in strong takings from the box office. The chemistry's set up, and there are definitely more stories to tell, and I know I'll be in line for another go. This is one of the rare remakes/reboots/tributes done right, and it comes highly recommended. Should I not succeed in getting the original series on DVD, I'll probably be contended with this one on my shelves too!

P.S. this is something unrelated to the movie, but an observation that this is probably the first PG rated film here, that had a full blown guy on guy lip-locking scene that went past the censors. Probably because of context, but then again, probably because of box office revenue as well. Perhaps if it had nothing to do with sex / eroticism that it is allowed? One wonders.

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