Get Smart

  • Title:  Get Smart
  • Director:  Peter Segal
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers (Time Warner)
  • Genre:  Comedy, Action
  • Cast:  Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, James Caan, Masi Oka
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“All I’m saying is that until we understand that our enemies are human beings, we will never be able to defeat them.  Yes, they are Bad Guys but that is what they do, not who they are.” — Max Smart

“So, to be clear – you’re not promoting me because I do such a great job.” — Max Smart

I loved this film when I originally saw it at the theater, and it’s still a very enjoyable movie to re-watch.  The movie begins with Max in his apartment, which is covered with post-it notes, some motivational (“You can do it,” and “8th time’s the charm,” etc.) some merely practical reminders.  We then follow Max as he listens to Russian chatter on his way to work.  Max walks into the Control museum exhibit at the Smithsonian but when no one is looking slips in — through the complicated multi-door entrance seen in the opening credits of the original TV show (updated slightly with CGI effects), finally he reaches the phone booth and uses that as an elevator to reach CONTROL.  Far from the dis-banded organization described by the museum guards, Control is an alive and vibrant secret intelligence organization.  Max is their top analyst, a job he is actually very competent at — picking up on subtleties that agents ignore and even other analysts don’t catch.  He’s even friends with two CONTROL scientists – Bruce and Lloyd, who design the various gadgets used by the agents.  Max had been very over weight and out of shape, but he’s slimmed down in order to pass the physical portion of his agent’s exam.

Max is playing paintball war games with Agent 23, being teased unmercifully by the other agents when he’s called into the chief’s office.  The chief  tells him the good news – he’s finally passed his agent’s exam (we learn later with an A+ or perfect score).  However, the Chief isn’t going to promote him to agent status because he’s too good an analyst.  Bummed — Max leaves the office for the day, talks to Fang (the dog) and literally bumps into Agent 99.  When he returns to Control headquarters, the place has been attacked.  In the aftermath, it’s learned that the identities of all CONTROL agents have been compromised and the agents are being systematically killed.  The chief decides to sent Max out as a full agent, pairing him with the more experienced Agent 99, who’s just had a complete facial re-sculpt, and thus is unrecognizable.

They travel to Russia to track down a KAOS threat to use yellow cake plutonium to make a bomb.  They find the KAOS assassin at his mansion and the yellow cake at a bakery, but despite Max’s best efforts, he’s set-up so it appears he is the double agent who attacked CONTROL.  However, while in lock-up, despite his own nightmares, Max figures it out and travels to LA — where Max, 99, and the Chief stop the bombing of the Disney concert hall and some very special guests.  They also figure out who the double-agent is.

Get Smart is a lesson in how a TV Show to Movie remake should be done.  I loved that not only is Max earnest, which he was in the series, but he’s smart and competent.  The chief isn’t kidding when he calls Max his best analyst.  What keeps Max from being the next James Bond, is he’s inexperienced.  And Carell’s also great at physical comedy — so there are some very funny parts to the movie — both physical and witty.  I also really, really appreciated that Carell did NOT even attempt to do the “Maxwell Smart” voice that Don Adams made so famous.  I think if he had, the movie would have been painful to watch instead of very enjoyable.

The second part to the excellent remake status of this film is that the action sequences are very well done.  In the series, Max actually was a good hand-to-hand and sword fighter (see “The King Lives?” and “To Sire, with Love” for Max’s sword-fighting abilities); the film takes that competence in action and extends it to Max’s abilities to figure things out and solve a mystery, basically.  Max’s issues come from a lack of real world experience — something 99 ends up teaching him, not a complete lack of ability.  And he does have the book smarts, as a successful analyst with over eight years of experience, and, having gotten an A+ on his agent’s exam (99 received an A-).  Also, Max is a really nice guy too — something that came from the series as well.  Max’s ability to sympathize with and help others (the overweight girl he dances with at the assassin’s party; his befriending of a very physically large KAOS agent, which leads to the agent passing a coded message to Max which then helps Max solve the case) also becomes important to the film – something I really liked.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film..  Honestly, before making a film of Starsky and Hutch, or I Spy, or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — the film producers should be required to watch this, and Bewitched.  Maybe then we’d get better remake films.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4.5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Ghostbusters

Alien Nation

Title:  Alien Nation
Director:  Graham Baker
Date:  1988
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Genre:  SF / Police Drama
Actors:  James Caan, Mandy Patinkin
Format:  Color, Widescreen
DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

The 1980s saw a lot of unusual cop buddy movies – “Alien Nation” takes that idea and gives it an Science Fiction twist – with a human cop working with an alien cop to solve his own partner’s murder.  (They actually start on another case together, but, it is, of course, linked to the partner’s death).  However, halfway through the film the plot turns away from an very interesting social commentary to a search for an alien super-narcotic that looks like Era detergent.  This isn’t a case of effects no longer working because of age of the film — it looked like Era when the film was made.  And there’s even a line where a human tastes the drug and says – “It tastes like detergent.”

Overall, Alien Nation, is one of several movies I could name where the TV show was much better.  Made a year after the movie – the television series re-cast the leads, expanded the characters of George’s family, and even introduced a potential Newcomer girlfriend for Matt.  It also focused on social issues (such as an alien/Newcomer voting rights bill) as well as contemporary police stories.

However, the movie isn’t all that bad — it’s a great idea, that works better in a series format than a movie.  And I actually really liked Mandy Patinkin’s “Sam Francisco” (quickly re-named “George” by Matt).  And, the movie hits hard in telling a story about racism before the drug storyline takes over.  Plus, there’s a killer scene at the end that’s wonderful.  I enjoyed the film when I saw it, enjoyed the TV series even more, and got a copy of the movie on DVD for free when I bought the TV Series from Amazon (or was it Deep Discount — whatever).  Anyway, the movie still works as a cop drama, it doesn’t look that dated.

Recommendations:  See it, but buy the TV series.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  All That Jazz