Posted: 06/22/2008


Get Smart


by Morgan Phelps

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The secret-agent movie formula is simple: add a wigged disguise that looks freakishly familiar to its wearer’s natural looks, a sprinkle of spy-worthy tunes, a cryptic call from an unknown creepy man and a pinch of exploding dental floss or other curious gadgets.

In a manner similar to Inspector Gadget, this film follows the formula perfectly and does so in an attempt to satirize the genre. Instead of being completely cliche and a carbon copy of the 1960s TV show it was based on, most of the jokes in Get Smart are refreshing. The film suffers from a few stale jokes and overused plotlines, but is refreshed by its current comedy and smart acting.

The newness of the content results from the political undertones, through jabs at the President and a few random comments, which are far from subtle but funny nonetheless.

When agents wonder why the President is never “here” (i.e. in D.C.), they find him reading a Goodnight Moon to a group of children. For those of you who don’t know, President George W. Bush was reading a storybook (The Pet Goat) to children on September 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks.

There’s also a reference to “muffins of mass destruction,” which I found particularly delicious. And don’t forget a President who can’t pronounce nuclear, much to the disdain of CONTROL Chief, perfectly played by Alan Arkin. Writers had to take their last potshots at the current president since his reign is up at year-end.

The oblivious star is Steve Carell, whose signature deadpan delivery and awkward charm is perfect for his role as Maxwell Smart. Smart is a former analyst finally gets a chance to be a real agent, Agent 86, after CONTROL headquarters is attacked and the identities of all the agents but one are compromised. This is his chance to be a hero to the geeky colleagues he leaves behind while saving the world from KAOS, a crime syndicate bent on domination by yellow cake uranium. As a misfit agent, he can never quite get it right, or as he says, “I missed it by that much.” But Carell gets being constantly wrong so right.

Playing opposite to Smart is Agent 99, played by Anne Hathaway. The seemingly perfect agent starkly contrasts Smart’s constant underperformance. But her character is so one-dimensional that the audience needs Smart to save them from her boring personality.

The only common thread between the two is the fact that they have recently changed identities. After blowing a mission, Agent 99 had to change her identity from a modelesque blonde to a brilliant brunette. Smart, on the other hand, was about 200 pounds heavier as his former self. While Agent 99 “used to look like her mother,” Smart “used to look like two of his mother put together.” Their transformations indicate how shallow Agent 99 truly is.

Also problematic for this spy flick was the forced romantic subplot. I am a firm believer in the fact that every good movie doesn’t need a romantic story line, but apparently, not all writers are with me on this. Agent 86 and Agent 99 together are a completely unlikely and strange couple. It would have been better for the film, and easier for me to stomach, if they remained opposing personalities working for the same side. But, the fact that they can fake a romance is a testament to their skill as actors.

Equally forced were the names CONTROL and KAOS as opposite forces seemed too obvious. I got the whole good versus evil text, and the subtext of chaos versus control didn’t need to be spelled outright to me.

Surprisingly smart was Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, as Agent 23, whose character was one of the most dynamic and dark of the bunch. His sidekicks, Agent 91 (played by Terry Crews) and Larabee (played by David Koechner), were dumb funny, but I still laughed when Larabee was stapled in the head—twice.

The bad guys, those who made up the KAOS team, were cliched criminals. There was the addition of one super-villain gone soft in the form of Dalip, played by Dalip Singh. Dalip’s move to the good side was initially unexpected and made for a few light laughs along the way.

Speaking of laughs: Just ask Inspector Gadget himself, but the funniest part of a spy movie is the gadgets that occasionally misfire. My favorite was the exploding dental floss, but just as cool were the cone of silence and a Swiss army knife with fire-shooting capabilities.

Get Smart lives up to its name with a smarter brand of humor and equally intelligent technology. It’s IQ and entertainment value could have easily been boosted with a dynamic Agent 99 and the loss of the romance entirely. We’re smart enough to know the geek doesn’t always get the girl.

Morgan Phelps is a student, writer and photographer in Chicago.

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