Monday, June 23, 2008

GET SMART: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Dwayne Johnson, Dalip Singh
Director: Peter Segal
Rating: ****
Runtime: 110 min.
Genre: Action, Comedy

You look at Steve Carell, one of our best actors and certainly our best comic actor, and you know the reason why the genius of Buster Keaton has aged so much more gracefully than Chaplin’s tramp. Keaton always kept a straight face, and he never betrayed the intelligence of his little fellow. He would be honest and he always played characters that took themselves seriously, and he was wise to know that in a comical situation it was better not to himself play for laughs, not to be false to the character but to just play the fulcrum.
Consider Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English), a student of the Chaplin brand of comedy, and how woefully unfunny he is. Even in his attempts at pulling a straight face involve a certain degree of silliness that is inherent to him. Or consider Mike Myers, who has himself spoofed Bond in the Austin Powers movies, and how he would do anything to take a laugh out of us. Carell, on the other hand, is from a whole different dimension. And he has that rare gift in him, the lack of which exposes the desperation of most comic actors. You can call it charm, you can call it heartfelt, or you can call it deadpan. He doesn’t bumble, at least not in the traditional goofy sense, but is incredibly assured of himself, and you know the guy in there is serious. That is why even a joke involving as stale and outdated an item as an exposed butt is funny. You know it is stupid, still you laugh, because hey, this is Steve Carell and with him you believe it. I often wonder about pitching actors from today into silent films, for they are from a whole different world. And I daresay, Carell is one of those few actors, if anything, would have been loved even back then.
In Get Smart, the big screen adaptation of a much cherished TV comedy I have never ever seen, Carell plays Maxwell Smart, or Max for short. And it just isn’t his name, this guy is smart in a way you would rarely come across in your regular spy action film. He works for CONTROL, an alternate arm of the United States’ intelligence machinery, and he’s the top analytical brain out there feeding on tons of reports from all corners of the world and making heads and tails of them. He’s the guy the spy movies have largely ignored, the guy who can derive important inferences from the sparse information of what the surveillance targets are eating. He is the artifact who holds that most valuable belief – that it is people, real people in flesh and blood, at the heart of it all.
He wants to jump the gun though, to being a field agent, and the test results are due. But at the other end of the world, that fun combination from all those years ago – Russian terrorists with bombs planning to blow up a major US City – make a comeback. It is probably one of the first films in years, if not the first, that is brave enough to make a joke out of the predicament, you know, post 9/11. Agents have been compromised, and now it is upto Max to team up with Agent 99 (Hathaway) to set across Europe and save the day.
For an espionage-genre spoof, Get Smart boasts of superb production values and gadgets that really do work, and often draw surprise. There’re stunts, and one involves a sky-dive, which would seriously test those of most Bond films. That is the film’s strength I suppose, they aren’t just making it for the laughs. They do have a pretty solid story, a suspense that is staring right at us, and a script that doesn’t condescend to us. It is a spoof alright, but it does have a thought process that understands the world it is making a joke of. In a rather crucial and amusing sequence, that involves the villain’s henchman (Dalip Singh, otherwise known as The Great Khali) making pulp of Max and 99, look at how Max wins him over. It is not a scene that exists only for its hilarity, but is vital to the film.
Another strength is the cast which is just about perfect. Hathaway is suave, and she has the confidence and intelligence to realize that her presence alone is enough to stamp her authority in whichever sequence she is in. Kinda like the feminine version of Brosnan. Arkin is the cream of the supporting cast, and the thing is all of them seem to be genuinely enjoying whatever it is they’re into. We do to, and what we have is a film that is better than most Bond films of the 70s and 80s. This is quite likely going to be the action comedy of the summer, and just because there’s Carell in there, I’ll be waiting for it as eagerly as I’m waiting for the next Bond film.

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