Hollywood can’t figure out what to do with Steve Carell. Crrell struck gold when Judd Apatow cast him as the forty year old virgin, gifting moviegoers with this immortal poster. The virgin was a normal, nerdy guy with seriously repressed issues, which was the basis of most of Crrell’s “The Daily Show” characters. Produce Pete, the incompetent reporter who gets a little too personal…the key to Carrell’s comedy is that he doesn’t have movie star looks (he looks like divorced dad), so we completely buy his “I just gave a massage to that intern!” rantings. The fun of Carell’s characters is watching them boil until they spill over the top of the kettle: He’s a regular-looking guy who’s refuge in life is the vain attempt to try to be normal. Carell is the master of the slow-build, often making the audience as uncomfortable as if we’re watching a fish flop around inside a boat.
That’s the main issue here. Get Smart has “cool” gadgets and “witty” one liners and all the other crap you’d expect from a blockbuster scripted by the duo who gave us Failure to Launch. Worse is that they foist an awkward, if not downright creepy, Steve Carell/Anne Hathaway love story on us. They try to explain it away with some stupid backstory about how Agent 99 had reconstructive plastic surgery because of a botched mission, but you know and I know (and the screenwriters and director surely know we know) that that’s still Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway up there. I mean, I’m still a little weirded out by the fact that Hathaway does topless scenes when it seems like five minutes ago she was in The Princess Diaries. But I could deal with that if she wasn’t up there making googly eyes at…Michael Scott.
There’s a bunch of good ideas floating around in this movie, but they never coalesce into anything. Dwayne (Please Don’t Call Him “The Rock”) Johnson is the young, kick-ass new agent, but he disappears for forty five minutes of the movie after stapling a piece of paper to T-Bone’s head. The nerdy gadget guys, apparently, saved all their funny stuff for “Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control”, some straight-to-video rip-off that sounds like an evil brainchild of Ari from “Entourage.” Alan Arkin and Terence Stamp are the feisty old guys, who could have squared off in a pretty vicious senior citizen fight.
There’s even some interesting politics that goes wasted. Toward the beginning of the movie, Agent 86 tells us that, “Until we understand that our enemies are human, we will never understand them. Yes, they are bad guys, but that’s what they do, not who they are.” That could use a little clarification, but you see where he’s going with this. Later, Agent 86 suggests that all the indestructible Russian henchman needs is a little therapy to get over his problems with his wife, and all of sudden, he wouldn’t seem so bent on ripping the arms off United States super spies. This is the Karl Rove argument, and for a moment, it looks like Get Smart is about to turn into a pro-conservative satire. Which, for what it’s worth, would make one helluva movie—Steve Carrell as Valerie Plame, perhaps, with The Rock standing in for the tough-guy neocon vision of the War on Terror. But it doesn’t do any of that…the movie just kind of floats along until the big action sequence at the end. Bill Murray has a cameo as a spy who stands in the trunk of a tree on the Washington Mall. That’s the perfect metaphor for the whole thing.