Those able to resist an end-credits urge to rise, run and vomit — one of many bodily functions invoked for laughs in the updated but downgraded Get Smart — will see to whom it’s dedicated.
Don Adams, a deadpan deity who originated bumbling spy Maxwell Smart’s shenanigans on 1960s TV, died in 2005. Had he lived to see the bomb put in bombastic here, it may have killed him.
Dedicating this film to his memory is like killing a kennel worth of seeing-eye dogs as tribute to the American Council of the Blind. Lest insults not be spread to the deaf, it’s a cruel irony that Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” becomes an integral part of such a dreary, dismal and soulless endeavor.
Throw this on the pyre, along with I Spy and Bewitched (coincidentally also starring Carell), of massive misfires to bring ’60s TV shows to 21st-century movie screens. It’s also Steve Carell’s third consecutive comedy in which he’s left hung out to dry, despite admirable efforts here to make the new Maxwell Smart feel like a fresh, fully realized creation.
Maxwell is an agent of Control, a U.S. spy outfit whose nemeses are agents of KAOS. This hard-working, sharp, earnest analyst yearns to be a field agent. But he’s passed over yet again when the Chief (the great Alan Arkin) tells him “men with hunches” such as his are just too valuable to let go.
When a headquarters burglary compromises the covers of Control agents worldwide — including stud Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) — Maxwell sees his dream come true. He’s paired with leggy, tough Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to track Siegfried (Terence Stamp), believed to be the break-in’s mastermind and an arms dealer planning a big nuclear bang. Trailing bad guys in Russia and beyond, Maxwell and 99 suspect Siegfried’s infiltrations into Control go deeper than they thought.
Series creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry are “consultants” here. No doubt, a studio executive likely felt them too old for new comedy. Yet a ramshackle, ridiculous script proves Brooks and Henry should’ve been allowed to write the script and get help from an action journeyman. (In that department, only the thunderous climax impresses. If nothing else, it’s a loud alarm to wake you.)
Screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (of the execrable Failure to Launch) waste little time making Get Smart get stupid. Start-stop urination, rats riding feces, copious fat jokes, lines about dried-out ovaries, Max vomiting into a bag only to have it glop on his face. It’s breezy, all right — with something that seems to have wafted over from a port-a-potty in need of attention.
Gross-out humor is fine in its right place, but Get Smart shouldn’t rely on it, especially not with proven comedians Carell and Arkin and game actors like Hathaway and Johnson. The latter are well versed in knowing winks but can barely see through the dust while things are so haplessly blowing things up. At least Arkin gets two uproarious lines near the film’s conclusion.
Excepting a finish too elaborate to be slapped together, this is a mostly humorless, hellish headache of a movie that looks like an editing-room cobble of workable takes. Segal constantly whip-pans his camera, perhaps visualizing how his cast stumbles over lines like banana peels. And between this and The Incredible Hulk, what’s with all the film stock that looks ready for TV?
Speaking of clumsiness, within Maxwell, there’s a fine line between that and idiocy. In the rare moments Get Smart isn’t obliterating that line with a size-14 shoe phone, Carell at least puts up a good fight of character versus caricature. It’s the same war he regularly wages on The Office, which occasionally makes his Michael Scott character atypically hateful for the sake of a laugh.
Given Carell’s latest attempt at career death, it’s strangely appropriate seeing him cling for dear life to an anti-suicide banner at the finish. Yet he emerged unscathed from Evan Almighty and Dan In Real Life, so he’ll do the same here. Maxwell is at least genuine when accidentally adept or exploring a villain’s psychology (“Bad guys — it’s what they do, not what they are,” he says.).
Get Smart doesn’t even have its target set on being a comedy without consequences. Free of any pointed political satire most of the way, it then introduces James Caan as a President who mispronounces “nuclear” and reads Goodnight, Moon in times of crisis. How inventive.
It’s indicative of a desperate dumbness that permeates the whole affair. Get Smart doesn’t just miss it by that much. It misses it altogether.