The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Script Review: Get Smart

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

A surprisingly spry script delivers a payload of fun spy humor and blue-state sensibility.


With more jokes about the post-9/11 world than a marathon of The Daily Show, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember’s script for the cinematic update of Get Smart has the potential to be the best spy-spoof since True Lies – until True Lies 2 comes along, of course.

ImageThe first act of this script includes jokes about:

• Terrorist chatter on surveillance tapes.
• The Department of Homeland Security’s five-color threat advisory chart.
• Racial profiling on airline flights.

Think you can handle it? Then read on!

The rest of Get Smart will hit the audience with the wacky shenanigans surrounding a nuclear attack on Los Angeles and plenty of (admittedly facile) jokes at the expense of President Bush. To be sure, all of this is to be expected from a script that was spat from the liberal loins of Hollywood, but this movie has a June 2008 release date – I have to wonder how this will play in flyover country. The writers include a few tasteless gay jokes, but will that be enough? Or have the red states wisened up enough to see the utter insanity of the current administration and our present geopolitical landscape?

Sorry. When I read a script like this, I get tempted to climb onto my soapbox, but I’ll knock it off – mostly. I’ll ask this, though: Are there people who still think it’s inappropriate to joke about terrorists on airplanes? Or nuclear bombs? Anyone? Bueller? If you feel this way, then you’ll probably come to the stuffy conclusion that a goofy update of a goofy TV spy series is a bad place to joke about the post-9/11 world. You’re probably also a part of the remaining third of the American population that still supports President Bush.

Hopefully that minority of brain-dead neocons and trembly voiced evangelicals will stay away from this movie, because I kind of like this script, and I think a goofy update of a goofy TV spy series is a great place to joke about terrorists and diabolical schemes to blow up big cities. It is now, just like it was in 1994 when James Cameron released True Lies, perhaps his goofiest movie, certainly his funniest, and one that features bumbling, gog-eyed Islamic fundamentalists as its villains.

James Cameron took Claude Zidi, Simon Michaël and Didier Kaminka’s script La Totale! and refashioned it into an energetic, high-octane action movie while still retaining the French version’s central core of comedy. While I can only presume that Cameron’s third act – with its nuclear explosion and climactic battle on a hovering F-14 – is more ambitious than the original, the entire second act of True Lies is straight-up farce, and that farcical energy carries into the final act, as Schwarzenegger’s character guides his awkward wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) through a covert operation.

Get Smart
takes that dynamic and switches it – the woman is the seasoned field agent, while the man is the awkward newbie. At the same time, though, Get Smart taps into the same thing that made True Lies so much fun: a meta-awareness of how weird (and funny) spy work is.

If memory serves, Cameron backed away from doing a True Lies sequel after the 9/11 attacks, saying that terrorism wasn’t funny in the post-9/11 world. A couple years ago, though, he said he would make a sequel depending on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection as California governor. Schwarzenegger got reelected, of course, but I still love the idea of an older, graying Schwarzenegger in a True Lies (or a Conan) sequel. (On a randomly related note, the Get Smart script opens with an action sequence starring the former Mr. Universe.)

In any event, Cameron’s willingness to reconsider a sequel to True Lies makes me happy, just as the script for Get Smart does. A veil of humorless, unironic self-righteousness descended over America after 9/11. I’ll call it the blinding darkness. This blinding darkness provided cover for the Bush administration to wreak a lot of havoc at home and abroad, and it ensured his reelection in 2004.

I’m relieved to see it lifting, because here’s the thing: terrorists are funny.

Now, before you flame me, let me clarify: Terrorist acts aren’t funny. Wanton death and destruction aren’t funny. Suicide bombings aren’t funny. Killing innocent people isn’t funny.

But if we’re to make sense of the post-9/11 world, it is incumbent upon us to be able to laugh at religious maniacs and their idiotic worldview with the same irreverence that spurred Mel Brooks to choreograph dancing girls into a high-kicking swastika.

I’m relieved to see this blinding darkness lifting, even if I’ll be sweating it out until the next presidential election. The lifting of this darkness means that movies like Get Smart can (hopefully) get made. I add the “hopefully” because I don’t know how much of this script’s irreverence will make it onscreen. I can say this: The prospect of a harmless adaptation of this TV show wearies me. The old show was pleasant enough, I guess, but to make a spy movie in this day and age that lacks this script’s PG-13 tang would be safe, boring – and just what Hollywood loves to do with summer movie tent-poles.

That said, let’s get to the script.