What is up with Steve Carell?
I swear I don’t want to like him. But I always do. I like everything he does. Sure, it was hard to watch The Office at first. Yet another BBC ripoff repackaged for TV? Puhleeze! Yet Carell makes it work. Despite the weekly train wreck of office suckuppery, romances gone wrong and corporate idiocy, The Office works because Carell is so earnest. You can’t help but laugh at Michael Scott, because he's oblivious that he's an idiot.
That carries through to Get Smart. Carell plays Maxwell Smart, a pencil pusher for top secret organization CONTROL. Here’s where I confess that I never watched the original Get Smart. I'm rather glad I didn’t have preconceived notions about how Carell should or shouldn’t play the part.
For a refresher course on my tolerance of and love for inanity in film refer to my review of Meet the Spartans. What works here, is the laughs harken back to stronger, more classic comedic stock. The laughs aren’t forced. The physical comedy (and there’s a ton of it) reads more like 1950s sitcom than the punch-in-the-nads cruelty of the Judd Apatow style that gave Steve Carell his big-screen break.
Along the way, the story is fleshed out through enjoyable casting. Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 transitions from competitive ice queen to human and kind of sickly sweet with Max.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shines as Agent 23, CONTROL’s golden boy. He swaggers, turns heads and generally waves his manhood around like he can do no wrong. Alan Arkin appears as The Chief, dishing out some of the giddier laughs. The high point for Arkin is a knock-down-drag-out street brawl with an overzealous general who makes the critical mistake of dissing CONTROL’s efforts.
Predictably, Smart is armed with the superspy’s usual array of gadgets, developed by Max’s fellow pencil pushers, Bruce (Heroes’s Masi Oka) and Lloyd (Nate Torrence). In a refreshing display of wish fulfillment, Bruce and Lloyd, super-geeks likely to endear themselves to the audience) relish in embarrassing football star field agents by using their intellects.
The gadgets elevate Steve Carell’s physical comedy nicely. The airplane bathroom scene in the movie’s trailers, where Agent 86 skewers his foot with a speargun, is only the beginning. Ultimately, Agent 86 mauls himself with every contraption that has the misfortune of finding its way into his hands.
The movie has incredible stunts worthy of the best Bond. Paramount among these is a spectacular parachute jump scene rife with action, suspense and laughs.
Even the music is inspired. During Max’s low point, Madonna’s "Four Minutes" plays while Smart realizes he has an annoyingly short time to save the entire world.
The best part of the movie is Max, who gets hurt because he suffers from the enduring, and endearing, delusion that he’s better than he really is.