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Monday, June 23, 2008

Get Smart

I know many of you that write to me wonder if I even read the e-mails you send and I assure you I do, ever single, inflammatory and potentially criminally harassing one. As a matter of fact, I have taken many to heart, perhaps too deeply, because I often find myself curled up in a fetal position in tears, which is as close to the position suggested in these types of correspondence that I can manage since my spine won’t bend as far as you have recommended and my head is too big to fit where you want me to put it. It’s just as well anyway since these same writers are the ones telling me I need to “wise up” and I don’t think I could learn much with my head buried in such an *ahem* stifling and soundproofed environment. So, following the wishes of the faithful, I figured this week’s new release playing at the Essex Cinemas sounded like the perfect opportunity for me to get smart since it is, appropriately enough titled, Get Smart.

I always look to the movies for inspiration and new wisdom, and so I hoped a movie with the name
Get Smart would be just the answer. I already knew it was based on the 1960s television series about a less than suave secret agent since I actually watched the original in front of a brand new invention of the time, a gi-normous Zenith color tv my parents had purchased for our family room when I was just a young’un.

I was excited that Get Smart was the number one movie over this past weekend, amazing me at first that American audiences chose this witty and urbane comedy over the gross and puerile antics of The Love Guru as their selection between the two films opening nationwide this weekend. Then I felt my first jolt of new “smarts” as I realized that with floods and tornados devastating most of the Midwest, no doubt the majority of those moviegoers who would have chosen that cesspool of a movie The Love Guru over the obviously intelligent choice, they were probably wading up to their hips in an actual cesspool at the time and didn’t have the occasion to go to a movie anyway. I’m sorry if that sounds condescending, Dear Readers, but secretly, in your heart-of-hearts, you know it is true. The sophisticated crowds are those in tornado-free zones. They don’t live in twister-magnets, aka, single-wides, with flocked, day-glow Elvis paintings on their chipped faux wood paneling walls because they don’t have faux wood paneling walls and they don’t give two squirts about Elvis since they know he has been dead for over twenty years. Instead, they are the ones who show up in force to see well-written comedies like Get Smart while the bottom-feeders with Budweiser can bongs next to their beds are picking at their scabies and waiting for Larry the Cable Guy to make another movie. Harsh, absolutely. But you you I'm telling the truth.

This Get Smart was made for a generation born long after the television series went off the air. It’s got über-Star Steve Carrell (Horton Hears a Who!; tv’s “The Office”) as title character Maxwell Smart, and he is perfect in the part. I can think of no one in Hollywood who could tackle this role better and still pay homage to originator Don Adams while making the role seem his own.

In this version, the story begins before Max is a full-fledged agent at CONTROL. He is an information analyst with a gift for incredible detail, but he has failed the field agent test seven times. When he finally does pass (“The eighth time is the charm”), the Chief (Alan Arkin; Rendition) is still reluctant to promote him until the evil organization KAOS attacks CONTROL headquarters, killing most of its agents and compromising the identities of the remaining agents in the field. What choice does the Chief have at that point but to give the untested Max a chance, and so Agent 86 is “born.” Fortunately, one other agent, with years of experience, is safe from detection. Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway; The Devil Wears Prada) has just had major cosmetic surgery done to change her entire appearance while “cleansing herself from a bad personal break-up.” One tiny detail that did bug me is that while Agent 99 went to such efforts to eradicate her former looks, she didn’t change her identity. After all this, shouldn’t she have at least asked the Chief for an unlisted number? I’m just asking.

So, lesson number one here is that if you want to get ahead at work hire saboteurs to destroy (at least the credibility of) everyone else around you and you are bound to get ahead by default.

Lesson two is that the best way to get past a broken heart is to see a plastic surgeon.

While CONTROL pulls itself back together, Max and 99 travel to Russia in search of the head of
KAOS, a man known only as Siegfried (Terence Stamp; Wanted). Apparently the plan is that if the duo gets Siegfried, then KAOS will go kaput. I kept thinking that they were obviously forgetting about his life partner, Roy, but what do I know? Actually, Siegfried, and his dumpy henchman Shtarker (Ken Davitian; Meet the Spartans) are operating a secret weapons factory where KAOS is developing nuclear weapons to target America, and it is up to 86 and 99 to find the source and destroy it.

I guess lesson number three is that once you get attacked by a tiger, don’t expect your life partner to remain faithful. Apparently he’ll plan on world domination without you.

The great thing about
Get Smart is that is manages to bring in the best of the original series for those who remember it while letting it also “breathe” comfortably in the present. Carrell captures the essence of original Smart Don Adams with his distinctive moves and intonations as he delivers those classic Smart catchphrases such as “Missed it by that much” and “Would you believe…?” He still manages to show Smart as having a certain savvy intelligence and sex appeal despite his obvious bumbling nature, creating a genuinely likeable and three dimensional character.

Lesson four calls for one to develop a unique catchphrase that people will always associate specifically with you. It’s best that this be something positive and not something like “Could you pop the zits on my back?” That one, by the way, belongs eternally to my first husband, and it still makes me queasy.

Anne Hathaway is also a perfect choice as Agent 99. She channels the essence of original performer Barbara Feldon, providing a strong, sensual persona for most of the film, yet occasionally letting Max (and us) see a glimpse of her vulnerable side, which we learn will play a key part in the climax of the film.

There are also several supporting roles filled by well-known artists who obviously signed on as a labor of love for the material and a respect for the original series. Dwayne Johnson (The Game Plan) plays the strutting, bragging, fawned over Agent 23, CONTROL’s most successful and admired agent. Masi Oka (“Hiro” from tv’s “Heroes”) and Nate Torrence (“Dylan” from tv’s "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") play the goofy underlings Bruce and Lloyd, skittering around CONTROL headquarters creating various inventions, including robot Hymie (Patrick Warburton; Bee Movie). There’s also shtick by Terry Crews (Balls of Fury) as Agent 91 and David Koechner (Drillbit Taylor) as the annoying analyst (and staple holding recipient) Larabee. But my favorite two cameo bits have to be those by SNL legend Bill
Murray (Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties), as very, very lonely Agent 13, hanging out inside of a hollow tree and just looking for some company, and best of all, a small bit by original series Siegfried, Bernie Kopell, now 75, as the Opel driver hijacked by Max towards the end of the movie. It’s a tad sentimental even if he is screaming his head off.

I was only a sort-of fan of the tv show, mostly because I was a schoolmate of star Don Adams’ daughter, Cecily, and so that made me feel obliged to watch in case she passed me in the hall and asked me anything about the show. I was afraid if I didn’t know the answer the stress might cause me to crack and I’d blurt out “Yurinda! Yurinda!” which is what the jealous girls called her behind her back after they learned that her family name was not actually ‘Adams’ but was 'Yarmy.' ‘Yurinda Yarmy’. Okay, it was sixth grade. You can't expect Shakespeare from pre-pubescent hate-filled girls. But remembering it now inspires another lesson.

Lesson five: If you are old enough to breed you ought to be old enough to put your child first. You may think it is cute to name your daughter Emelee, Cinsere, Makynzi, or Lakeisha or hang something bizarre like Knight Sir Lancelot, Abyss, or Lavernues some such twaddle. If you think it is cute to invent new spellings or whole new names, it’s not. It just makes you look illiterate and your child will spend the rest of this or her life having to spell their name every single time it is necessary to give it to someone. Every. Single. Time.

For these Get Smart actors it certainly has been the right choice. This is a bright, clever, and contemporary spin on a classic from the past. It is fun from start to finish and, while decidedly modern, it maintains a rhythm like the kind of comedies Roz Russell and Cary Grant made back in the 50s and 60s. It is family-friendly, quick on the wit, and relies on its actors to make the picture as solid as it is. It is destined to be a hit, and you’ll be missing the best comedy so far this year if you skip this one.

Lesson six: In spite of myself, and what some of my critics would say, I really can recognize the difference between good movies and crap. ;-b

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