Get Smart, the now-cult TV sitcom that aired from 1965 to 1970, was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and these legendary funnymen are listed in the credits of the new motion picture spinoff Get Smart as “creative consultants.” The word is that neither of them actually had any input in what turns up on the screen, which probably explains why major facets of this motion picture differ from what fans fondly recall about the show. But in at least one respect, there’s a striking similarity: Both have no problem providing the laughs. In the series that ran during the heyday of the Cold War, Don Adams starred as bumbling agent Maxwell Smart while Barbara Feldon played his more competent partner, Agent 99. Working for a government outfit known as C.O.N.T.R.O.L., the secret agents had their hands full protecting the world from the nefarious schemes perpetrated by the members of the rival outfit K.A.O.S. This new version does away with the Cold War backdrop, though there’s also no mention of the War on Terror or 9/11 or any other unpleasantness soiling this modern world. In fact, except for a snarky comment about liberal Hollywood stars and the sight of James Caan as a dim bulb president who can’t pronounce the word “nuclear,” there’s very little real-world relevance, which is just fine. Instead, the well-worn plot finds K.A.O.S. head Siegfried (Terence Stamp, taking over Bernie Kopell’s role from the series) threatening to destroy the world unless he gets paid a substantial sum, and the movie seems as much a Bond spoof as a Get Smart homage. Carell, whose Maxwell Smart is (slightly) more intelligent than Don Adams’, and Hathaway are well-paired, and there are choice supporting stints by Alan Arkin as The Chief and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the macho Agent 23. In between all the gags and all the action scenes, there’s an identifiable human element at work, and this empathy prevents this from becoming just another big, dumb summer comedy.
If I had ever entertained the notion that Mike Myers would make another movie as awful as The Cat In the Hat, I might have opted for early retirement. Yet here comes The Love Guru. Myers, who also co-wrote (with Graham Gordy) what we’ll loosely refer to as the screenplay, stars as Guru Pitka, an American-born, Indian-raised spiritual leader who’s miffed that he places second to Deepak Chopra when it comes to the popularity of self-help gurus. As children, both Pitka and Chopra were taught by -- say it fast to get the “joke” -- Guru Tugginmypudha, who trains his young charges by urinating in a bucket and then making his pupils fight each other with piss-saturated mops. Tugginmypudha is played by none other than Ben Kingsley, who 25 years ago won an Oscar for playing the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. Pitka is given a golden opportunity to pass Chopra in mass appeal when he’s hired by Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba, and you know you’re in trouble when she’s one of the more tolerable aspects of a movie) to patch matters up between the hockey team’s star player, Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), and his estranged wife Prudence (Meagan Good), who lately has been stepping out with the enormously endowed Los Angeles Kings goalie Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake). And yes, every time Le Coq pulls out le cock, we predictably hear a thud as it hits the floor. In fact, predictability is a rampant problem with The Love Guru. When Pitka’s parents are revealed to have been dog groomers before becoming missionaries, we count the seconds until Tugginmypudha cracks about how they were into doggie style before they switched to the missionary position. That’s not to say every joke is apparent before the fact. I didn’t expect to see Pitka pull a cue stick out of his ass and smell it. Or Pitka literally shove his head up said ass while demonstrating yoga positions. For months, Hindu groups have been protesting this film’s release. I’m surprised the outfit Little People of America hasn’t joined them, given the amount of jokes aimed at Verne Troyer, the diminutive actor who plays Maple Leafs coach Cherkov. Blatantly non-P.C. humor can certainly be funny, but when it fails to deliver the laughs it merely comes across as pathetic and mean-spirited and more than a little embarrassing.
Based on the graphic novel series, Wanted initially feels like an unofficial remake of Fight Club, as cubicle nobody Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy, speaking of Atonement) narrates how he’s been beaten down by his mundane, miserable existence (cheating girlfriend, obnoxious boss, dead-end job). Into his life walks not Tyler Durden but Fox (Angelina Jolie), a tattooed beauty who insists that he’s been targeted for elimination by the same man (Thomas Kretschmann) who recently killed his father. Fox soon introduces Wesley to The Fraternity, a clandestine outfit led by the cordial Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Shucking aside any moral qualms, Wesley joins the group, in the process learning that he possesses untapped skills that make him a natural for this line of work. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, best known for the visually striking yet dramatically inert Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch) and its sequels, has crafted a slam-bang feature that revels in its own ridiculousness: To criticize the movie’s outlandish situations would be to miss the whole point of Bekmambetiv’s exercise in excess. Still, the script’s twists and turns aren’t nearly as clever as writers Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan pretend and after a while, the movie’s gleeful approach to nihilism proves wearying.