Get Smart Isn’t

I loved the TV series GET SMART and I still do. You could pick any episode from the first three seasons of GET SMART and it would be ten times funnier than Steve Carrell’s new movie version. The GET SMART movie is a listless, laughless remake that makes THE NUDE BOMB, the last GET SMART feature film, look like brilliant comedy. But while I was sitting there, fighting sleep and debating whether to walk out or not, it occurred to me that GET SMART has a lot of the same problems as Steve Martin’s THE PINK PANTHER remake. In both cases, someone made the inept decision to make the bumbling heroes smart and capable…and very good at what they do. Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau were lovable, clueless, idiots who thought they were brilliant at what they did…and were far, far from it. That was what made them so funny. So why change the key aspect of their characters? The two Steves are extraordinarily funny guys — but have their egos become so big they are hesitant about playing morons? That wasn’t a problem for either one of them in the past (see THE JERK or ANCHORMAN).  If they didn’t want to play Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau as we know and love them…then why bother playing the parts at all? They even screwed up the “Would you believe” and “missed it by that much” jokes.

The only thing I liked about the GET SMART movie was the very, very, very in-joke of seeing Carrell use all three of the cars that Maxwell Smart drove in the series opening title sequence (cameos by Bernie Kopell and Leonard Stern seemed awkwardly shoe-horned into the movie). But that one moment was hardly worth the agony of watching the rest of the movie.

5 thoughts on “Get Smart Isn’t”

  1. I doubt if it’s the actors who insist the heroes can’t be morons. My bet is on the studios.
    A little like your anecdote about the studio suit who said your detective should know just what’s going on when he arrives at the crime scene. “Is he a hero or a complete moron?”

  2. Hollywood is so hungry for easy profits that they’re buying up and remaking old TV shows and movies by the score because they know that the name recognition and nostalgia factor will bring in X more dollars than anything new and original.
    Then they satisfy their creative urges by making changes to the basic nature of the series and its characters — the very things that had made us love them (or at least feel nostalgic) in the first place. I suppose they justify it by saying that some aspects need to be “modernized.” Like a hip-hop underdog voiced by Jason Lee, when the nerdiness of Underdog (voiced by Wally Cox) which was part of his charm. That movie did pretty well at the box office, though, but it was a kid’s movie and probably no one under 21 has ever seen the original.

  3. I believe there is a bigger hurdle here in re-creating beloved characters. It is more successful in parody (think Brady Bunch Movie) and much harder in the examples above (Pink Panther, Get Smart).
    In panther films Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards molded, shaped, and altared the Clousseu character over time but we all were comfortably familiar with him. Steve Martin had a delicate balance to bring in some of those qualities (bumbling inspector) but not to parody (or imitate) Sellers. Though hard to watch at first, the “new” PP movie grew on me and I like…not love mind you…but like it.
    Therein lies the same challenge with Get Smart. What was funniest about the show was Don Adams’ delivery and lines…S. Carrell’s challenge is to either imitate the character (bad choice in my humble opinion) or re-create (bad choice becuase it will never be as funny as “Don Adams'” version). A true lose-lose. Case in point where the “imitation” version was tried was in the aweful (imho) Bewitched movie…where Steve C.’s Uncle Arthur does a blatant imitation of Paul Lynde…it doesn’t work because he is not Lynde…so a lose lose.
    I wonder when Hollywood will run out of tv shows, then move to making films of our TV commercial characters – Mr. Whipple, Madge (Palmolive:’you’re soaking in it’) and on?

  4. I haven’t seen the original series but I saw the movie and I loved it, I could not stop laughing and now I want to watch the series, I was noticed that you can watched it on “nickelodeon”, so I will.

  5. I’ve seen the original series, in fact, I watched a lot of reruns about 25 or 27 years ago. I especially liked the idea of HYMIE and I liked the later shows when the two were in love and Maxwell Smart married Agent 99.
    However, the movie was a riot, very funny stuff, but it was really not like the series at all (in flavor) though many of the jokes made up for that. I guess you can’t always “update” a good thing.


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