In the ’90s, the direct-to-video market was the realm of ex-stars like Corey Feldman, making indirect sequels to forgotten franchises like License to Drive and Meatballs, but the increasing affordability of kickass home-theater systems, and the seemingly infinite possibilities of hi-def formats — not to mention a widening gulf between movie ticket prices and what they actually deliver — have helped level the playing field between the box office and the rumpus room. This year, more than one studio has announced plans to ramp up their direct-to-video output; in the short term, this means you can expect to see sequels to horrible movies like Without a Paddle on the shelves at Best Buy, but in the long run, it just might lead to more stars making moderate-to-big-budget movies for the home market.
Which brings us to Get Smart, which was released to theaters over the summer — and did well, grossing over $100 million — but is a perfect rental if there ever was one.
This isn’t to say Get Smart is a bad movie; actually, I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I thought I would, and laughed often. It’s an endearingly stupid film, which makes perfect sense, given that Steve Carell has built a career out of playing endearingly stupid men, and it’s an update on a television series based on the premise that even an incompetent blowhard can be a superspy. Basically, what it does is take Michael Scott from The Office, give him the skills of an assassin, and set him loose in the Russian countryside with Anne Hathaway. More often than not, it’s a lot of fun.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Dwayne Johnson, an actor I’ve always tried my best to hate, is great here; he may have questionable taste in scripts, but the man was born to be a movie star.)
So it’s funny, and it’s got action, and it boasts a fine supporting cast, including Alan Arkin and Terence Stamp. Carell does a good job of channeling Don Adams in the role that made him famous, and Anne Hathaway is suitably hot. But was it worth paying $7 or more to see in a theater? Absolutely not. It’s the kind of movie that exits your consciousness as soon as the closing credits stop rolling, a perfectly middle-of-the-road feature that never needed a theatrical run. Peter Segal cut his teeth on comedies like Tommy Boy and Nutty Professor II, and he brings that same sensibility to Get Smart — the comedy works a lot better than the action, and the whole thing is shot flat, like a made-for-TV adventure.
None of this is really a knock on Get Smart the DVD, though. Given that I didn’t pay to see it in the theater, and my expectations were close to zero, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie — enough to forgive the somewhat logy pacing, an occasionally nonsensical script, and a series of obnoxiously hammy appearances by Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, and David Koechner. If I had seen it with a ticket stub in my pocket and a tub of overpriced popcorn in my lap, I probably would have wanted to kick myself a little on the way out to my car, but from the comfort of my couch, I enjoyed it more than, say, Dan in Real Life. Like I said: the perfect rental.
As is becoming the norm for high-profile DVD titles (especially comedies), the extra content is plentiful. The cover promises “62% More ‘Laughs’,” delivered via an obnoxiously intrusive feature called “Smart Takes” that, when turned on, interrupts the movie repeatedly (and I do mean repeatedly — easily 40 times) with deleted or alternate scenes. None of the “Smart Takes” are bad — in fact, some of them are quite funny — but it’s a terrible way to watch a movie. Even a film as lightweight as this one loses something when you’re repeatedly taken out of the flow.
A number of featurettes are included on the second disc, which run from the fun (a 10-minute “making of,” a clip featuring Carell advertising the movie in a series of different languages) to the lame (a “sneak peek” at Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control, the Oka/Torrence spinoff feature that was released to DVD back when Get Smart was in theaters). None of the featurettes run longer than 10 minutes, and they’re all deeply inessential, but with a $35 MSRP, the Get Smart “special edition” had to justify its existence somehow, and if you love the movie, you’ll get a kick out of the added features. (With the exception of the “Smart Takes,” obviously, but those can be viewed on their own.)
Get Smart has already been given the green light for a sequel, which will inevitably carry an inflated, harder-to-recoup price tag, and probably won’t be able to duplicate the limited success of the first installment — but if the studios make a concerted effort to remove the stigma from direct-to-video releases, franchises like Get Smart will almost certainly have an easier go of it. Corey Feldman might not ever be able to make Meatballs 5: The Return of Meathead, but everyone else will be happier.