Get Smart

"Missed it by that much." That was about all I knew about the Get Smart TV show, just that catch phrase and the shoe phone, really. I think once, long ago, I saw the episode where Max and 99 get married, because I vaguely remember being puzzled over how someone could get married and not even say their real name. I researched it before I went, but I'm sure I missed a ton of in-jokes. For instance, Max (Steve Carell) had a wanted poster up on his refrigerator for Dr. Loveless from Wild, Wild West (I've seen every episode of that); but it turns out he also played a bad guy on the Get Smart series named Mr. Big. So there were probably a lot more references that just slid right past me. But that's okay, because you don't have to catch every one.

Supposedly, CONTROL (not an acronym, apparently, though you're supposed to capitalize it) was disbanded after the Cold War ended and their arch-enemies, KAOS (ditto) went away. Except neither is true; both groups just went underground, literally. Max says something about being sixteen stories underground at one point. In the film, at least to start, Max isn't an agent, but rather an intelligence analyst. Insert obvious joke here. Still, he's very good at his job, and the Chief (Alan Arkin, and don't forget to watch him in Catch-22) thinks that the world needs the old-fashioned type of agent, like the two of them are. So as much as Max wants that promotion to field agent, he isn't getting it, even though he passed all his exams. Frankly, I was just glad that they didn't make him into a total idiot, because I don't think I could have tolerated that for almost two hours.

Early on, CONTROL headquarters is broken into, and KAOS grabs a complete list of all CONTROL field agents. But they have a secret weapon in the form of Agent 99 (Anne Hathway, not looking at all Princess Diaries-ish), who has recently had extensive plastic surgery and therefore won't be recognized; and also in their newest operative, Max, now Agent 86. Their super agent, the guy who gets applauded whenever he walks in the room, Agent 23 (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), is forced to stay at the base and learn how to work the copy machine, while 99 and the untested Max go off to save the world.

KAOS has been making bombs ('nucular' ones; James Caan has great fun playing a president who no one ever quite comes out and says is George W., but we all know) and our heroes have to track the factory down, with 99 reluctant all the while and Max almost ridiculously enthusiastic yet deathly serious. They have great little gadget fights. ("Exploding dental floss. You don't have this? Huh.") She harps on his inexperience, he chides her for wanting to hit everything, and you sometimes wonder why the whole world doesn't know that they're undercover agents, the way they argue in public. But they muddle through (of course) and find the factory, and you think the movie's over for a second. Then everything goes wrong again, and the good guys have to start all over.

I was expecting tons of physical humor, and while there certainly is that (such as the obligatory 'maneuver around the security lasers crisscrossing the room' scene), it isn't just that, thankfully. There's a scene involving a miniature crossbow and tiny darts that absolutely made me cringe, though I have to admit that the rest of the audience seemed to like it. But surprisingly, it's kind of a feel-good movie, in its way -- the once overweight Max goes out of his way to make the chubby girl feel like the belle of the ball; and the Chief, after being called 'gramps' repeatedly, gets to beat up on a younger guy. So everyone gets to be a hero in his or her own way -- except the bad guys, of course.

They're led by the mysterious Siegfried (Terence Stamp), who is in turn led by the voice of the Unknown Caller on the phone. The sidekick angle is covered by Ken Davitian as the unheard voice of pseudo-reason, Shtarker, and muscle is provided by the Easter Island man, as Max christens him -- really Dalip Singh, also known as the Great Khali to any wrestling fans out there. I had to look him up on imdb.com -- he's actually 7'2" and weighs almost 400 pounds. So, yeah, Max and 99 get nearly flattened by him. He could flatten people just by looking at them funny.

Three and one-eighth idols here, and I never thought I'd be rating it that high. I did subtract one-eighth for that awful pincushion scene, but really it was pretty fun overall. You can see Masi Oka of Heroes fame as a tech; witness the upgraded version of the TV series' Cone of Silence; and learn what can be done with one of those banners that they trail behind light planes. You'll also see the Disney Hall in LA, which looks like a large heap of slightly melted aluminum sheets, and is a singularly ugly building. But don't forget to pay attention to the man in the tree.

Originally posted 6/2008. There's talk of a sequel, which I actually might not mind, but it's terribly vague at this point. When imdb lists the year of release as (????), better not to get your hopes up.

Image: 
99 prepares to fire, and Max prepares to demonstrate a made-up martial art.

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