Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Review: Get Smart

Get Smart has a lot of problems. A real, serious list of problems. And, honestly, not too many plus points. Steve Carell bumbles along and does his thing, playing the same kind of earnest, socially uncomfortable character he has done many times. He and Hathaway bounce off each other pretty well, particularly early on in the film, and there's some good slapstick and some nice one liners. That, unfortunately, is pretty much it for the good side of the film.

The plot manages somehow to be both confusing and predictable. There are no plot points or twists that you won't predict beforehand, and at the same time, the individual scenes and story arcs seem forced, unrealistic, and occasionally bafflingly amateurish. There's a moment in the middle of the movie in which it seems like a scene has been completely removed, and the whole second half of the film feels like a mish-mash of exposition and set-piece stunts. The first half is a bit better, and at least feels more like a coherent story, but suffers from the same underlying issue, in that it seems like a series of jokes or funny situations held together tenuously by expositional dialogue and stunts.

The characters are depressingly one-dimensional. There's some attempt to make Carrell and Hathaway's relationship a little deeper, but it is mostly confounded by the strange and meandering plot construction. Every other character in the piece is a caricature, with characteristics brought in for a single joke. It's a problem that plagues a lot of mainstream comedies, but it keeps happening. There is nothing intrinsically interesting about any of the support characters in this film, even the main antagonist. In fact the whole of KAOS seems massively underdeveloped, as though the writers knew they needed some 'bad guys', but couldn't be bothered to make them anything more than cardboard cutouts. I don't know if Terence Stamp forgot to take his acting pills, but his performance seemed so bizarrely out of place as to almost be deliberate.

In any case, the single joke for which each character is set up usually works, but I only counted three or four laughs that weren't in the trailer. There's also a somewhat distasteful vein of visual gags throughout based on the idea that fat people are intrinsically hilarious, and though it doesn't come up a huge amount, it's there enough to damage the film.

Finally, it's impossible to look at a spoof spy movie without making a comparison with Austin Powers. Personally I very much like all the Austin Powers films, a minority view perhaps, but I feel like even their harshest critic must conclude that they handle the genre (if it can be called that) with much greater skill than Get Smart. Austin Powers' characters may be stereotypes, but they are knowing stereotypes. The relationship between protagonist and antagonist is fleshed out and consistent, the jokes are abstract and witty, and the script makes the plot funny, rather than being a track to allow for particular scenes and set pieces.

Taken as a whole, of course, Get Smart isn't a terrible movie. It's diverting, has a few good laughs and a few good scenes and Carell and Hathaway are bearable. The problem is I don't really understand why it was made. There is no big idea, no real revelations, no moral, and no point to it. Everything about it is grotesquely, tooth-grindingly generic. And while that doesn't necessarily make for a bad film, it certainly doesn't warrant any kind of recommendation.


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