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Stylish, funny: Hathaway as Agent 99 in Get Smart.

Would You Believe It’s Funny?

By Laura Leon

Get Smart

Directed by Peter Segal

For those of us of certain age, watching Get Smart on TV was like having a snow emergency on a chem test day. From its opening scenes, in which Agent 86, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), strode the seemingly endless corridor of secret passageways to get to a phone booth which shuttled him to the offices of CONTROL (think CIA minus the torture), you couldn’t help but get sucked in to a half-hour of inspired lunacy. Get Smart was the brainchild of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and it’s probably because these two writers had such opposing senses of humor and comedy that the show worked so well. Brooks’ penchant for the naughty, even vulgar, was balanced by Henry’s dry wit, so, for instance, every time the luscious and capable Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) intoned something that could be taken as, well, erotic, Adams’ hopelessly unaware 86 would miss the point. Because he was so clueless about his own idiocy, let alone people’s opinions of him, Smart always bested those who were far more intelligent and cunning. CONTROL may have been working against the Cold War aims of the sinister KAOS, but lunacy prevailed.

The new big-screen version of Get Smart wisely pays homage to the series without being chained to it. While there are amusing references to what series fans (but no one else) would remember, such as the cone of silence, Hymie the Robot and the literally stuck-in-a-tree Agent 13 (Bill Murray in cameo), there are big changes: namely, Smart (Steve Carell) is no longer the snippy agent last to get the joke but an overly sympathetic former fatty who desperately wants to prove that he can make it as a field agent. I don’t mind that Carell chose to go this direction. Indeed, I think it’s better that he diverted from simply mining Don Adams’ various tics, but I think that the filmmakers missed out on some valuable material by going the sad-sack route. Of course he’s going to win the day, the girl, the promotion—it’s the triumph of the everyman, rather than, well, “Controlled” chaos.

Assuming the role of 99 is Anne Hathaway, looking more chic than anyone has in films since Audrey Hepburn did Paris in Charade (note: Hathaway wears Chanel; Hepburn wore Givenchy). She’s the agent who knows how to do everything better than anybody else, and to her chagrin, when Max is finally sprung into field work following a KAOS attack that exposes all the “old” field agents, he is assigned to be her partner. There follows routine bickering and bantering scenes, some better than others, but the spark is dampened by the fact that we already know, from an early scene, that Max has the hots for 99. Gone then is the requisite slow simmer that makes these kinds of relationships so delicious to watch. That said, there is a tremendous scene of one-upsmanship when the duo infiltrate a Russian party, and 99, in a va-va-voom wig and sequined gown, shimmies away with a Russian baddie, and Smart, proving he’s no slouch in the intelligence-gathering area, trips the light fantastic with a hefty but graceful guest. What could have been a fat joke is instead a moment of great comic timing, with the latter duo proving remarkably light on the tootsies and winning the begrudging respect and admiration of all present, both on and off the screen.

The plot is, thankfully, simple: Bad guy Siegfried (Terence Stamp) has got hold of yellow-cake uranium and will bomb America unless our government forks over scads of money. No transporters or intergalactic gizmos, just good old-fashioned good- versus-bad plotting. In the midst of two or three incredibly loud explosions and many more high-speed chases, screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember throw in some very funny business involving CONTROL hottie Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) having to do desk duty, the Chief’s (Alan Ar kin) Watergate-spawned feud with one famously controlling vice president (Geoff Pierson), and a certain President (James Caan) more interested in slapstick buffoonery than in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. There are great lines delivered with panache and style, by a cast whose timing is impeccable. Old-timers will get a kick out of the inspired use of the shoe phone and the snazzy red car, but there’s plenty for newbies to enjoy. All in all, and despite its few glitches, Get Smart is a smart, funny winner.

Really Bad Vibes

The Love Guru

Directed by Marco Schnabel

The question isn’t really why the National Hockey League, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto Maple Leafs, Morgan Freeman, Jessica Simpson, Val Kilmer, Oprah, Stephen Colbert, Mariska Hargitay, Deepak Chopra and other veritable institutions and wealthy celebrities whored themselves out for, respectively, embarrassing product placements and mirthless cameos in a movie bursting with (limp) dick jokes, scatological hijinx and simulated elephant sex. That’s easy. Love Guru co-producer, co-writer and star Mike Myers’ Austin Powers trilogy made a billion dollars at worldwide box offices (give or take a few million). The question is, why did Myers make The Love Guru?

The answer is disturbing. Myers, who really seems to believe in the kind of new-agey, East-meets-West, quick-fix spirituality offered by the wealthy, successful Chopras of the world, has made a comedy about feelings. And poop.

The results are so bad, at times I found myself laughing because some of the jokes are so awful. Only at times, though, because The Love Guru’s humor is largely cringe-inducing.

The plot: The star player of hockey’s Maple Leafs (Romany Malco, as sharp and funny as he was in The 40 Year-Old Virgin) is a failure on ice, because his girlfriend (Meagan Good, underused as usual) left him for L.A. Kings goalie Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake, delighted again to send up his sexy-pop-star image). The Leafs owner (ever-hapless Jessica Alba) hires her favorite celebrity guru (Myers, as an American raised in India) to save the relationship so that the Leafs will finally win the Stanley Cup.

That is a lot of plot for an 89-minute-long fart comedy.

Time for some credit where credit is due: The NHL did not allow the actual cup to appear in the movie. Myers would probably have had an elephant piss in it.

The guru shtick isn’t funny. It’s bizarre. Myers can’t resist tugging his beard and winking at every (inappropriate) opportunity, as if we’re in on the (nonexistent) joke.

Genuinely puzzled, I skimmed through the press materials to see if the star had anything to say for himself. I found this quote from Myers, regarding the film’s most horrifying cameo: “Of course Ben Kingsley is one of our finest actors and with Tugginmypuddha, you have a cross-eyed guru who hands out chastity belts, so it’s a very broad conceit.”

Tugginmypuddah. Someone’s tuggin’ someone’s puddah, all right. I just wish he’d stop.

—Shawn Stone


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