True confession: This musicals buff has never seen Les Misérables onstage. Well, not entirely, anyway. Years ago, when it was still on Broadway (its 1987-2003 run was the fourth longest of any show, behind The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Chicago) and I was employed by a theatrical trade publication, I was asked to write about its revamped sound system. Off I went to hear it in action, and afterwards I was invited to watch the rest of the performance. After a decent interval, I crept out; I’d missed a lot, and by and large I’m not the biggest fan of sung-through musicals, a fraternity that includes Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Les Miz creators Schönberg and Boublil’s other blockbuster, Miss Saigon.
I lacked vision. But I wasn’t alone. As Les Miz fever swept the globe following its 1985 debut in the West End, Alan Parker was asked to submit his “vision” for a film adaptation. “I had none,” he confessed. (No stranger to musicals, he and Madonna would make a fine one of Evita in 1996.) And there it sat, vision-less. Understood: It’s a fat slab of thunderous musical theatre, replete with Victor Hugo’s mistaken and assumed identities, blood, prostitutes, revolution, excrement, and a cast in rags. Plus bullet-ridden
Jeff Giles: It’s Anne Hathaway! As Catwoman! And she’s riding the Batpod!
Michael Parr: If you say so…
Dw. Dunphy: Huh. Looks like Liv Tyler.
Michael: I actually agree with you. It barely looks like Ms. Hathaway, though my most recent viewing of Ms. Hathaway was during her breast-a-riffic performance in Love and Other Drugs, so my view might be obscured by the fact that she isn’t topless.
Kelly Stitzel: I don’t think she looks very Catwoman-like. All I see is a woman wearing a leather jacket and some weird glasses on a bike.
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.