Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

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And Loving It

It was with trembling and trepidation that I accompanied slightlyfoxed and spyinthehaus to a showing of Get Smart at the Tottenham Court Road Odeon.

The 1960s original, a spy spoof starring Don Adams as loveable bungler Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for CONTROL, and Barbara Feldon as his beautiful, patient partner 99, is probably my favourite TV programme ever and has been a massive influence on my tastes and personality since I first caught it on Channel 4's teatime slot at the age of 11, as anyone who knows my email address must be aware.

Beloved old shows are seldom handled well on the big screen (hello, Lost in Space and The Avengers) and the aficionados on the Get Smart mailing-list had been savaging the film since its US release, so I was fully expecting to weep and wail and walk out.

Instead I found myself chuckling all the way through, with occasional outbreaks of laughing out loud. What follows has almost nothing to do with reviewing the movie on its own merits; it is pure fannish opinion.

Steve Carell, to my astonishment, is a sweet and likeable Maxwell. His walk, timing and facial expressions manage to convey Maxness without parodying Adams, and he pratfalls magnificently. He perhaps overplays the character's vulnerability and understates Max's arrogant conviction that he's right, even when faced with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. I can excuse this, since engaging the sympathy of the audience is more necessary for a film than for a half-hour sitcom.

Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 took a long time appearing, and it was even longer before I warmed to her at all. The point and crux of the relationship between Max and 99 in the original series is that she adores him, totally and utterly, from the moment they meet. She might roll her eyes at times, but her "Oh, Max!" is always one of affection, not despair. 99 '08 displays contempt verging on downright nastiness towards her partner.

Halfway through the movie, though, Anne dons what is essentially a 99-wig to disguise herself - the 1960s look apparently being all the rage at chic parties in post-Communist Russia - and appears to start channelling her predecessor, casting smouldering glances at 86 and besting him with one of his own catchphrases.

New Nice 99 disappears along with the hairpiece, however. I wish she'd kept it on for the rest of the movie.

The supporting cast is variable in quality. Alan Arkin makes an excellent Chief of CONTROL; it's a hard role to play without turning it into Generic Balding CEO, but he comes into his own as the film progresses and is a worthy successor to the kindly yet irascible Chief portrayed so well by Ed Platt. Terence Stamp, on the other hand, sleepwalks through his part as KAOS villain Siegfried, the Blofeld to Max's 007.

If Siegfried doesn't have a ludicrous German accent, why call the character Siegfried at all? Several characters suffered from sharing their name and nothing else with someone from the original series - like Larrabee, turned from the Chief's loyally dumb right-hand man to a workplace bully. On the whole, the original characters work better: The Rock displaying unexpected comic talent as top agent 23; analysts Bruce and Lloyd, a.k.a. That Bloke Out Of Heroes And Another Dude, already featuring in their own spinoff movie. The exception is Bill Murray's wonderful interpretation of Agent 13, the paranoid, lachrymose master of disguise.

It was always plain from the glimpses we saw that everyone at CONTROL HQ is slightly bats. This spirit is evoked nicely in the movie, especially in the scene where compromised field agents are stuck doing office work. CONTROL's rivalry with the CIA, bringing opportunities for the writers to poke fun at the real agency, is straight from the original too.

Get Smart wasn't designed as political satire, but could never resist having a crack or two at the government. The movie doesn't disappoint: a small cheer went up from the audience as the Chief corrected the President on his pronunciation of 'nuclear'.

It was a shame that CONTROL agents no longer carry Max's signature gadget, but in the age of mobile telecommunication it's not surprising the shoephone has been superseded. (The original is seen in a museum display showcasing Control's past, and gets its moment in the spotlight near the end of the film.) The famous opening and closing credits in which Max walks through a series of security doors is given a nice big-screen update, though suffers a little from the showy special effects. (I always found it rather sweet that Don Adams was quite obviously ducking down in the phone box when allegedly descending in a lift.)

The hardest thing to reconcile with the original series was the decision of the scriptwriters to make Max an analyst, working behind a desk to translate tape after tape of chatter picked up from bugs around the world and deliver reports that nobody reads, rather than CONTROL's greatest field agent.

Then it struck me. The 1960s Max prides himself on having memorised the dossier of every known KAOS agent. He's an expert in countless martial arts and languages (or so he claims), a stickler for detail (always insisting on proper use of the Cone of Silence) and a master of obscure facts which save his life on more than one occasion. Of course he's an analyst at heart!

Max is a nerd - a geeky, nitpicky nerd. This is the secret of his success, and it took a movie made 40 years after the original series for me to twig.

I went in braced for cynical exploitation, scraping of the sitcom barrel, a name bolted on to a generic sub-Austin Powers cringefest. Instead I got some great lines and visual gags, including the best Cone of Silence joke ever.

I felt that the film was made by people who had not only bothered to watch the original but had loved it in childhood almost as dearly as I had. I wouldn't have thought it possible to make a successful Get Smart without Don Adams, who developed the character of Max into a unique and iconic figure, but they have.

The film is littered with tributes and references. As well as the dedication at the end to Don Adams and Ed 'The Chief' Platt, Max and 99 fly to Russia with Yarmy Airlines - Yarmy was Don's real surname. But the loveliest moment in the movie has to be the cameo by Bernie Kopell, the original Siegfried. So at the end of the day, KAOS wins after all.
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