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Friday, Oct. 10, 2008
Every girl's a spy
By KAORI SHOJI
After viewing "Get Smart," I understand why 80 percent of women in the developed world cite the following as the top problem in their personal lives: they'd like to change their jobs and start over, but they don't exactly know what to do. Call off the dogs: What most of us want to do, in the innermost recesses of our souls, is to become a secret agent.
To those who dismiss such dreams with a derisive snort, I beg you to watch "Get Smart" — even if you do not continue reading this review. Forget slaving away for a law degree or an MBA. Ditch the idea of becoming an executive vice president at some dot-com operation. Oh, to be someone like Agent 99 (played by the extremely likable Anne Hathaway), the sizzling-hot espionage babe who can sport white-rimmed Chanel sunglasses as if she was born wearing them; who trots the globe toting one tiny hold-all but appears for parties decked out like a Bond Girl in sequined evening dresses and bobbed wigs; who can kick ass without batting either of her wondrously madeup eyelids, in said wig and dress. And before I forget, she can run a mile in four minutes and 30 seconds, and that's on a bad day.
Agent 99 has an admirer, though not the kind you'd expect. It's nerd extraordinaire Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) who worships her and yet tries to compete with her in the manner of a high-school basketball rookie trying to take on Michael Jordan. Not that Max isn't an espionage gem on his own terms: He speaks 40 different languages and only needs to hear snippets of scratchy, clandestine conversation to come out with an 150-page report. But all he really wants to do is switch off his PC and do like 99. So when a hard-won promotion to spy status is followed by a partnership with his chosen mentor, Max is orgasmic. Agent 99? She's less than exhilarated.
But 99 is a good sport and a team player; she'll show him the ropes and pluck him out of trouble, even when he is annoying her to no end almost every minute she spends with him.
Directed by Peter Segal, "Get Smart" is based on the 1960s TV series of the same name that made a brilliant mockery out of Cold War politics with slapstick spy gags and cool gadgets, such as a phone that doubled as a shoe and phone booths that doubled as elevator chutes leading into the agency known as Control. Mel Brooks was on the writing team of the original "Get Smart," and he's credited again for this remake, but between he and Segal, they make sure the movie functions on its own right, free from most of the subtexts and inside jokes of nearly half a century ago.
Updated to fit the times but retaining some old-school, '60s nostalgia, "Get Smart" likes to play dumb (admittedly, it has less depth than a baby's bathtub), but it plays with style and hides a calculated smartness that never makes the foray into smarmy intelligence.
The trouble with the original "Get Smart" was the hero of the title, who was a pain in the lower extremities even in the middle of his finest hours. Was it his hair — never mussed or tousled, so pomaded to his scalp it resembles a brown helmet? Or his sedate gray suits that broadcast a bureaucratic absence of style such as that of a football sportscaster? Or was it just his gaping lack of seductiveness that made him the anti-James Bond.
Carell however, delivers the goods: a Maxwell Smart tailored anew as everyone's favorite nerd, the guy who solves all agency problems from lost staplers to ferreting out a double agent. Too bad that unlike Spiderman, he never morphs from doormat geek to sleek superhero with superb pecs — after all that hard work, he never even gets a change in wardrobe.
Ah, but Agent 99. She's the embodiment of what a girl wants to be when she grows up or more specifically, what she fantasizes about becoming after she changes her career track at 35. Heck, the chick appears for the job in a skin tight, white pants suit and those blindingly painful heels from Miu Miu (take it from one who knows), yet can sprint at top speeds on railroad tracks.
She dresses for breakfast in nothing but the skimpiest lingerie, high heels and a bathrobe, and fields calls from the boss before reaching for her orange juice. In fact, she's so cool she admits to getting massive plastic surgery ("I also had them do the anti-aging thing, I mean, why not?") and shows Max a picture of her former face: "I used to look like my mother." Not even Madonna can match that.