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'Get Smart' (**)

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Posted: Friday, June 27, 2008 10:00 pm

Of all the comedy sub-genres, the television adaptation has one of the worst track records. Yeah, there's the occasional "Brady Bunch" or "Scooby-Doo," in which the filmmakers managed to pay homage to the source material while at the same time giving their movie its own delightfully modern spin, but most of the time the end product is more in line with "The Flintstones" or "Bewitched" or any number of other catastrophic misfires that not only failed as films, but also cheapened the work they were attempting to cash in on. Studios keep trying (reportedly, reworkings of both "The A-Team" and "I Dream of Jeanie" are currently being filmed), but for every step forward they seem to take five steps back.

"Get Smart" is the latest classic TV show to get the big-screen treatment, and while it's not the unmitigated disaster many feared it would be, the film still falls squarely in the category of "miscalculated failure." The writing is sometimes sharp, but in attempting to act as both a silly comedy and a major summer action flick, the film never finds a good balance between the genres.

Even at nearly two laborious hours, "Get Smart" doesn't find the time to wedge in any major laughs. Some quality sight gags aside, the comedy is uninspired. It's often obtuse enough to be considered borderline avant-garde, but the screenwriters unwisely chose not to take the plunge into real slapstick absurdity, and truly embrace the ridiculous nature of the material in the way Mel Brooks and Buck Henry did with the original series.

"Get Smart" also fails in the action department. The plot, involving the efforts of CONTROL spies Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) and Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to thwart the nuclear ambitions of the villainous KAOS terrorist organization, is essentially an elaborate set-up to show our clumsy hero fake his way through a variety of action set pieces. Yet the film never allows Smart to be quite goofy enough to gain the viewer's sympathies.

Instead of blindly bumbling his way through potentially deadly situations with slapstick glee (as he should), this Smart comes across as far too capable to be much fun. So, without much inspired physical humor, we're left with a series of action scenes that are neither exciting nor properly stylized. They're just pedestrian and, more often than not, shockingly boring.

The cast is a mixed bag. As Smart, Carell very astutely opted for a fresh interpretation of the character as opposed to a mere impersonation of the original actor (as Carell did with Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur in the "Bewitched" movie). I would have preferred that the screenplay made better use of his talents for physical comedy, but as written, Carell does a serviceable job of bringing the character into a new age.

However, as his counterpart, Hathaway brings nothing to the table with her flat portrayal of the long-suffering Agent 99. She and Carell share very little chemistry, and instead of addressing the character's apparent youthfulness with a plastic surgery plot device, the filmmakers would have done well to cast an older, more capable actress. (Personally, I'm thinking Natascha McElhone would have been the perfect choice.)

As KAOS operative Sigfried, the great Terrence Stamp is largely wasted, but thankfully Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is around to pick up some of the slack as the impossibly cool Agent 23. Yet even The Rock is no match for Alan Arkin, who steals every scene as The Chief. With his signature blend of crusty grumpiness and good-natured charm, he almost makes you forget you're watching yet another in a long line of lifeless TV adaptations.

"Get Smart" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and some crude sexual humor.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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