Because both films were released on the same day, I decided to see both, back to back. And I am going to write about both, back to back.
The Love Guru ***
Get Smart **
"Get Smart" directed by Peter Segal, and starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin, is an update of the classic television series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.
What made the television series so memorable was the deadpan humor from Don Adams and his relationship with the always-supportive Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon). So, the first thing you might expect Segal to do, when adapting the series for the big screen, is to make sure he captures the spirit of the comedy. In "Get Smart", Segal seems to be directing a big action film with small moments of humor. I was honestly shocked at how elaborate the action was and how little humor there was in the film.
Maxwell Smart (Carell), an analyst with CONTROL, is gifted and can decipher elaborate conversations and figure out the hidden meaning behind seemingly innocuous meetings. But he also desperately wants to be a field agent. Every time Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) returns from an assignment, Max notices the looks of admiration he receives; women openly flirt with him and the other office workers blatantly adore him. Max wants some of that idol worship. But the Chief (Alan Arkin) tells him he is too important as an analyst. An attack on CONTROL headquarters, and enhanced activity by KAOS leader Siegfried (Terrence Stamp) cause the Chief to rethink that position and he pairs Max with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). As they head to Russia to follow a lead, they begin a thorny relationship, during which each has to come to accept that the other has skills that will help enhance their collective teamwork.
But director Segal (who has directed many Adam Sandler films and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3") just doesn't set the tone or get the feel of the film right. The whole project also just smacks of marketing overkill; a complimentary straight-to-video film featuring Bruce and Lloyd (Masi Oka, TV's "Heroes" and Nate Torrence) as two tech guys was released a week after the film was released. Presumably, this film contains more of their 'adventures'. As these characters are little more than irritating time wasters in "Get Smart", why would I want to see an entire film featuring just them? The Madonna – Justin Timberlake song "4 Seconds", released by the record division of the company producing the film, plays over the end credits. I'm surprised Batman didn't make a cameo.
From the moment Max and Agent 99 are paired together, they don't trust each other, or seem to like each other very much. It never ceases to amaze me when filmmakers put their two leads at each other's throats. Are we supposed to enjoy watching the two leads, the two reasons we wanted to see the film in the first place, arguing and showing animosity towards each other? I think a lot of filmmakers confuse this for creating sexual tension. If they argue a bit, but then try desperately to keep their hands off one another, that's sexual tension. Fighting all the time and trying to one up each other, that's not sexual tension, it's just dumb.
Carell seems to be playing the role very straight. When he finds out he has become an agent, a moment he has waited for a long time, he asks to use the Cone of Silence and starts screaming his joy. But the Cone of Silence doesn't work and his co-workers hear every word. This, a competitive ballroom dance and a scene in which Max struggles in an airplane washroom are the only moments that even come close to approximating the original series' humor. These moments are funny, and amusing, but when the film runs about 105 minutes, they aren't enough to qualify "Get Smart" as funny.
Throughout the rest of the film, Carell plays Max as very earnest and trying to do a good job. There are a few occasions when the filmmakers seem obligated to throw in the familiar catch phrases ("missed it by that much", "would you believe …") but these seem forced, like they are being included because someone felt they had to. And they don't work. Carell's Max is inept at certain things, but he is also good at many others, so he isn't stupid enough to use these catchphrases to show bravado to cover up his constant mistakes.
Hathaway doesn't appear to realize she is appearing in a comedy, which might be a good thing. But again, Agent 99 and Max don't really seem to like each other throughout most of the film. At one point, she doesn't even trust Max and then all of a sudden, without any reason, she does. It is sloppy storytelling and sets my teeth on edge.
Alan Arkin plays the Chief, the gruff, yet supportive head of CONTROL. Dwayne Johnson plays Agent 23, the poster child for agents everywhere. Throughout, he demonstrates little acts of sadism towards two fellow agents (played by Terry Crews and David Koetchner) that are meant to be funny, but like most of what is meant to be funny in this film, they simply don't work. Granted the two agents are extremely annoying, but Agent 23 is way over the top mean to them and it just ruins the spirit of the film.
James Caan plays the President and he is clearly channeling W for the role. At one point, the Chief shouts, "It's nuclear. Not nucular." And we first meet the President when he is reading a picture book to a class of children, getting far too wrapped up in the narrative. These are a few of the rare funny moments.
Terrence Stamp plays Siegfried, the leader of KAOS. It is always fun to see Stamp in a film, but he pops up at strange times and it almost seems like the filmmakers kept forgetting he was on the payroll. Oh, let's include him in this scene.
The action scenes are good, and exciting, but when you don't really care about the characters, it is difficult to feel any suspense about whether the characters get out of the situation or not.
So, in the end, "The Love Guru", despite it's faults is the better film. Not because it is created with any more skill, that is debatable, but because it is actually funny. The production values for "Get Smart" are better, but the laughs aren't there and the performances are, for the most part, lackluster.
Would you believe they missed it by that much?