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My Spy (2020)

This was a movie that intrigued me because of the number of release delays and because, by the trailers, it just looked like it was going to be fairly bad. It’s not actually bad, simply mediocre family fare (with an extra dose of Cardi B. swearing in song repeatedly). It’s Dave Bautista trying on the Kindergarten Cop formula, and the plot is pretty much what you would expect, with Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) having to watch a family and befriending the little daughter in danger, schooling her in the ways of spycraft before having to be rescued during the big finale. As far as children’s films go, it’s pretty standard and inoffensive stuff. It coasts on Bautista and the little girl (Chloe Coleman) having a fun chemistry that rises above the obvious and under-developed comedy set pieces. However, there are flashes that point to what My Spy could have been, a more spy and satirical tweak of spy hijinks and action movie cliches. The little girl wants to learn how to be a spy action hero, so she asks about walking away with her back to an explosion and trying out other tropes. She even sizes up all the “tragic backstory” options for Bautista’s character we expect. The finale even involves throwing a grenade into a burning oil truck just to achieve an explosion worthy of walking away from. These little moments are enough to convince me there was a superior draft of this script before it was dulled and softened in the rewrite process for mass consumption. It’s not going to be a great film experience but as formulas go, Bautista plus precocious kid is winning enough to satisfy for 90 minutes.

Nate’s Grade: C

Get Smart (2008)

Get Smart was a beloved spy satire that aired on television from 1965 to 1970. Don Adams starred as Agent 86 and he bungled his way through scene after scene, oblivious to his shortcomings. The show was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and maintained a genial, goofball appeal as it satirized James Bond style spy movies and tweaked Cold War paranoia. And as is written in stone by Hollywood, anything that was ever once on television must eventually become a big screen theatrical version. Get Smart already produced one unfortunate movie, 1980’s The Nude Bomb (which doesn’t sound too different from the U.S. Air Force’s plan to create a Gay Bomb — true story). I’m pleased to report that the big-budget modern Get Smart retains enough of the show’s flavor even while producing something with little resemblance to the source.

The updated Get Smart exists in a world not too different from our own (the president is still a boob). CONTROL is still in operation but secretly underground. Agent Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is an expert analyst who specializes in knowing the enemy and compiling 400-page reports. He’s failed the field agent test several times and desperately wants to get out from behind a desk. The Chief (Alan Arkin) says that he needs more men like Max. He gets his chance when CONTROL is attacked by KAOS. Many of the Agents identities have been compromised. The only agents remaining are the dashing and hulky Agent 23 (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the svelte and beautiful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), a group of science techs (including Heroes‘ Masi Oka), the Chief, and newly appointed Agent 86, Maxwell Smart. KAOS, perhaps thanks to the end of the Cold War, has become a group of shadowy men making ties to terrorist groups worldwide. Siegfried (Terence Stamp) and his henchmen are aiming to sell nuclear devices to terrorists. Agent 99 and Max must travel across the globe to ensure that KAOS does not fulfill its villainous schemes.

The plot is fairly workmanlike and it doesn’t really establish much in the way of an ongoing threat. As a result, the movie feels like it lives in the moment, going from gag to gag, but it just so happens that a decent number of those gags are funny. Get Smart is mostly a chuckler of a movie, sure to bring smiles and giggles but rarely hard, gut-busting laughter. I never found myself laughing too hard but I did find myself enjoying the time. Get Smart is a very amiable experience that manages to maintain a healthy level of silliness without ever falling victim to stupidity. It’s pleasantly goofy without becoming farce. Sure there is crude slapstick but the film, and Carell in general, manage to give them a slight edge that elevates them beyond your typical juvenile behavior. There may be a pee joke or a quasi-homophobic joke but Carell manages to make it worth your time.

The relationship between Carell and Hathaway provides significantly more interest than the ho-hum plot. The filmmakers find a clever way around the potentially unsettling reality of the age difference between Carell and Hathaway, who is nearly 20 years younger. The two have a spunky chemistry and their combative interaction elicits some of the most amusing laughs. Hathaway, with her doe eyes and dewy features, is just as eager and up to the task as Carell, so watching them spar and tease gives the movie a bit more juice. Kudos to the casting director because the cast is packed with capable comic actors that know when to seize the moment, and Arkin seizes every one of them (it seems that with every new film, my man crush on The Rock only grows greater).

The film is a hybrid of comedy and ramped-up action set pieces, and surprisingly they aren’t that bad. Director Peter Segal, who has directed three Adam Sandler vehicles, stages some fairly exciting action sequences with a decent degree of visual flair but the film overindulges on action. The movie should focus more on its cast of characters instead of loud, brash action sequences. It’s a little weird watching Maxwell Smart expertly shoot people like he went to a John Woo camp. The tones never fully match up, and Get Smart begins to feel like a comedy that thinks it?s a James Bond movie or an action film that thinks its overly absurd. The tonal struggle means that the comedy is handicapped by all the action interrupting and stalling the pace of jokes. There are times when Carell and Hathaway are firing one-liners at one another and then -WHAM!- they have to dodge bullets and kick bad guys. The stunts are impressive but I kept feeling a sense of disappointment when the action would cut short the momentum of the comedy. The spurts of action shortchange the humor. Segal’s direction is also blunt at times, so whenever a character thinks reflectively we have to witness a mash-up of past clips to visualize what the character is reflecting upon, in case our memories of a two-hour movie fail us while it’s still ongoing.

Get Smart is greatly benefited by the considerable comic charms of Carrell. His Agent 86 isn’t so much incompetent as he is bumbling, but best of all the man keeps a gloriously self-deprecating and deadpan sense of humor from beginning to end. He doesn’t lack self-awareness, and is not ignorant of the feminine charms of his partner, and as a result this new version of Maxwell Smart ends up being, well, kind of smart. Carrell shoulders the film and is able to save lackluster gags by his sheer comic ability and immense likeability. The film doesn’t push the envelope in any regard but it also doesn’t condescend or try and flirt with being too clever for its own good. Thanks to Carell, Get Smart manages to be much more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Fans of the Get Smart TV show, such as myself, will find it hard to recognize the source material inside the big screen transformation. The filmmakers have turned a goofy satire of Cold War paranoia into a full-fledged summer popcorn action cartoon. The movie moves at a brisk pace, despite pushing toward the two-hour mark, and its screenplay is packed with enough enjoyably silly and smartly stupid jokes to guarantee a string of smiles. Like Carell’s 2007 entry Dan in Real Life, the movie presents such a jovial, good-natured spirit that becomes mildly infectious. You may roll your eyes a few times but you forgive and forget. Carell proves he is fast becoming one of the most capable and leading comics, and he proves yet again that his force of personality can elevate material that doesn’t meet his same qualities. I just wish that Get Smart had focused more on the yuks and less on gunplay and explosions. I guess, to quote a certain agent, you could say they missed it by that much.

Nate’s Grade: B

The Longest Yard (2005)

Does anyone else remember an episode of South Park from the 2004 season where Eric Cartman dresses up as a robot named AWESOM-O? The best part of the episode came when Cartman stumbled into a Hollywood meeting and they asked the robot to pitch a movie idea. He came up with idea after idea of Adam Sandler in some wacky yet predictable situation, each a slight variation from the last. The Hollywood execs ate it up and scribbled everything down, chanting, “Goldmine!” I imagine The Longest Yard remake, the latest Sandler comedy vehicle, came about through similar creatively bankrupt circumstances.

Paul Crewe (Sandler) is at a low point in his life. The once star quarterback has been banned from football for throwing a game. His girlfriend (Courtney Cox) thinks they should split, and after being chased by police for drunk driving, he?s been sent to prison. The warden (James Cromwell, your go-to guy if you need someone old) has big plans for Crewe. He wants the young stud to organize an all-inmate football team to play against the cruel guards. Crewe gets help from a fellow inmate Caretaker (Chris Rock) and they set about finding the right men for their team. A former Heisman-winning football player (Burt Reynolds), who happens to be in the same prison, becomes the coach. Slowly but surely the group becomes a team united to get some revenge on their tormentors.

The Longest Yard is an Adam Sandler comedy in the worst way possible. The film is sloppy and sophomoric but generally unfunny. It sets its comedy heights on kicking people in the nuts and making fun of gay people. Mission accomplished. The sex jokes, while in abundance, generally fall flat because the movie is so ineptly transparent when it comes to comedy. It lets all the air out of the supposed punch lines. The humor is typically homophobic but infuriatingly also anti-women. You see, one of the guards is taking steroids in a bottle with a giant label that says, “Steroids?”(so much for keeping a low profile). The boys replace the steroids with -hee hee- estrogen pills. And in three days time, which would of course have no effect in such a short period, the guard is now crying, and overly emotional, and empathetic, and he has hot flashes, though I don’t know how in the world a man comes to that conclusion. Apparently it’s funny because women are weak and care about each other. I would be offended by this whole joke if it wasn’t so incompetently done. The Longest Yard exists in its own inept world where inmates have cells within arms reach of each other and there’s a prison football league. Lest we forget, this prison also keeps a star system to rank its inmates. Little did you know of Roger Ebert’s unorthodox side projects.

Sandler plays Adam Sandler as he does in most of his Hollywood flicks. He’s likable, he’s a goofball, and it all works out. I wonder if we’ll ever see the true thespian side of Sandler again, like in Paul Thomas Anderson?s deconstructionist Punch-Drunk Love. Rock’s abrasiveness is toned down but he also loses his comedic edge. He’s basically another stereotypical black character in a movie making tired jokes about the difference between black people and white people. Cromwell and Reynolds both appear to be having fun mucking it up with the youngins. The rest of the supporting cast have their moments but aren’t very memorable. The movie fills out the athletes by having real football players and wrestlers.

What’s worse is that The Longest Yard wants to also be taken as a serious movie. This causes some intensely jarring scenes intended for dramatic impact but they just stick out sorely and are misplaced. Every time the movie goes from kicking people in the nuts to dealing with something like racism or death, the movie flounders from the tonal whiplash. The original movie was more of a prison drama than a sports movie, let alone a comedy. The Sandler remake wants to be all three and isn’t good at any of them.

This movie is so formulaic that it could have been written on a string of napkins, likely only totaling three. The Longest Yard feels like 2005’s greatest example of a cut-and-paste studio approved movie. Of course the embattled hero will once again face his demons and his past. Of course the motley crew of idiots and convicts will come together for something greater than themselves. Of course the evil guards will all get their comeuppance in appropriate ways. I expected all this from the start, but where The Longest Yard goes terribly wrong is when even the details can be correctly guessed. I watched the film with a couple friends and we accurately guessed every character move, scene transition, character development, and sadly, every punch line. This is a film that spells everything out, including the jokes. Here’s an example of the film’s shortsighted thought process: the dastardly warden soaks the player’s field and makes it all muddy with the intention of demoralizing the team. What? These are prisoners, and you think mud is going to demoralize them? Don’t even get me started on how insane it is sending Burt Reynolds into the game as a running back. There’s more attention spent on the limp football scenes than the story or the comedy.

Another example of how weak the comedy is comes during the football game. It’s being telecast on ESPN and Chris Berman is providing the play-by-play. His sidekick in the booth is an inmate who doesn’t say anything. Berman even broaches this fact on air. Now, if The Longest Yard knew the facets of comedy, the natural payoff for this sequence would be for the silent inmate to say something at the very end, something funny or unexpected or even verbose. Instead, the film has the inmate talk two or three times and he adds no comedy. That’s The Longest Yard in a nutshell: all set-up and no return. And seriously, stop with the Rob Schneider cameos already.

The humor is a cocktail of physical slapstick and the occasional one-liner. There just isn’t anything satisfying to the comedy The Longest Yard has to offer. The jokes typically don’t build to anything greater and the humor is simply immediate with no lasting results. There’s nothing that will make you keel over with laughter, nothing that rises above a smirk or a slight giggle. The jokes are way too predictable and there’s nothing funny about the expected. That’s why most people don’t chuckle when the mail arrives. This just isn’t an entertaining comedy, plain and simple.

The Longest Yard is a tirelessly formulaic affair that is so ham-fisted with comedy it can’t even deliver jokes properly. This is a dumb, sanitized, audience-friendly easily digestible piece of puff that will get caught in your throat. This is a Franken-movie, with various parts crammed together for the best possible results by some studio overlord. The Longest Yard‘s comedy is sophomoric and generally insipid, the drama is a complete misstep and tonally out of place, and the football scenes are vapidly jazzed up. This is a sports move that doesn’t work as a comedy and a comedy that doesn’t work as a sports movie. Sandler’s devout army of fans will likely be satiated with this latest effort, feeling the flick to be stupid fun. For me, it was just stupid. Very stupid.

Nate’s Grade: D

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