Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
This is a Steve Carell vehicle, all the way. I’m not familiar with the production history of this movie, but the writers retrofitted the Max Smart character into another of the nebbishy, bumbling, ultra-self-conscious, good-hearted dweebs that Carell has made a mint playing.
• There are shades of The Office’s Michael Scott in Max’s ultra-efficient work as an intelligence analyst, but as opposed to Scott’s cluelessness, Max backs up his big talk with total recall of his 1,000-page reports and an encyclopedic knowledge of world affairs and terrorist activity.
• The writers also cannily make Max into a former fat guy. As the movie opens, Max has only recently lost about 150 pounds, and his obsessive-compulsive dedication to keeping fit rings true. As a former fat kid, I can vouch that a fear of relapse dogged me for years after losing the weight – a fear that has only faded in the last few years. I mention this choice because it lets the writers recall a lot of the bad-self-image energy that Carell channeled into his performance in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
With that in mind, it turns out that Get Smart also happens to echo another well-known hero from spy fiction: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Naturally, the Get Smart script sends Max Smart (the geeky, physically unsure genius) into the field for a mission, just as Clancy sends Ryan (a dweeby CIA analyst) into into dozens of black-op adventures.
And you know what? I kind of like Get Smart better. Clancy made Ryan into a former Marine to justify his improvisatory skill in the field, but in Get Smart, the writers let Max prove himself mostly with his brains. This brings us to the movie’s other lead character: Agent 99, to be played by Anne Hathaway. To the surprise of no one, the writers portray 99 as a seasoned field operative who somehow gets saddled with the incompetent Max on a mission to stop a terrorist plot.
But Max shows 99 the benefits of doing your homework while they’re infiltrating the KAOS headquarters:
OK, listen, I’ve placed charges at key stress points all around the building.
Are you crazy? You can’t blow up a building full of radioactive material!
I know that. I’ve set only enough charges to collapse the main building on top of the lab, safely sealing it and rendering it useless to KAOS, so Control can excavate and dismantle it later.
Max, that’s brilliant.
Thank you. Although there is one problem.
We’re still in the building.
OK, two problems. I was going to say there’s a man behind you with a gun.
99 wheels around, sees an armed guard and SHOOTS him.
OK, we’re back to one problem.
The writers also show a willingness to make light of such weighty topics as nuclear proliferation, also while Max and 99 are exploring the KAOS stronghold, which happens to be located in an old bakery:
99, I found yellow cake!
Of course you did. It’s a bakery.
Not yellow cake cake – yellow cake uranium!
Max notices workers in a break room celebrating a coworker’s birthday.
Although, there is some yellow cake cake as well.
Again, nice. I’m all in favor of silly gags that play to their stars’ strengths – I can just hear Carell deliver that last line now. Most of the script is this pleasant and snappy, except for a few depressing “gay people are funny!” sight gags.
(Side note: In case you don’t remember: Max and 99 work for an organization called Control. Their chief nemesis is an evil organization called KAOS. It’s funny, the way life imitates art. James Bond primarily squared off against Soviet agents during his Cold War adventures, but he still had the occasional bout with the evil organization SPECTRE. Now, in the real world, instead of fighting big, scary countries, we have an evil terrorist organization, Al Quaeda, to contend with. I wonder how Stephen Sommers and company will handle the “terrorist organization” Cobra in the G.I. Joe movie?)
But I’m looking forward to seeing how the tension plays out between the red-state lowbrow humor and, say, the 64-color terrorist threat chart on display at Control headquarters.
“Elevate the threat level to burnt umber!” one character yells. Heh.
There’s also a scene on a plane where 99 spots a scary-looking middle-eastern guy. Max chides her for racial profiling, but in the end it turns out that the scary-looking middle-eastern guy really was a terrorist. I’m not sure what to make of scenes like this. They make me feel oogy, of course, because they feel like red-state shout-outs amidst all the blue-state sensibility. “Hey, rednecks! It’s OK – racial profiling rocks!”
I’m also wondering how middle America is going to react to a summer movie action-comedy that includes blue-state references to Burning Man and NPR, as well several explicit jokes about President Bush, including an image of him reading a storybook to grade-schoolers and a gag about predicting hurricanes.
But I’m reading too much into a movie as silly as Get Smart. I should just be glad that the writers were willing to joke about issues like racial profiling, much like the guys behind Harold and Kumar 2 are, as seen in their teaser trailer:
Awesome. The Onion had the balls to make these same kinds of jokes back in September 2001, and we’re finally starting to see the rest of the creative world find the balls to start making them again.
For example, the climax also revolves around Max and 99’s efforts to disarm a nuclear bomb (naturally), and to do this, they need the five-digit code. Unfortunately, 99 only heard the movie’s villain (a spoiler I won’t reveal) enter the code, prompting one of the funniest bits since Tim Curry and Lesley Ann Warren’s “one plus two plus two plus one” give-and-take in Clue:
What’s the passkey?!
I couldn’t see what he typed!
Well, did you hear it?
What did it sound like?
I think it was – (makes musical tones) – Deet-doot-deet-doot-doot!
Please don’t think that my generally positive reaction to this script means I support Hollywood’s infatuation with remaking old TV shows. Far from it. I bemoan the creative malaise of mainstream movies as much as any red-blooded blue-stater, but I like Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, and I think this script is pleasant enough to make a fun starring vehicle for them.
And maybe the movie will even be able to smuggle some good old progressive thought into the deepest, darkest reaches of middle America. We can hope, can’t we?
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.