Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Review: The Nude Bomb a.k.a. The Return of Maxwell Smart (1980)

By ScottDS
When the original Get Smart series premiered on Nick at Night in 1991, I was eight years old and at the urging of my mother, I decided to check it out. Five minutes later, I was a die-hard fan. I’ve since seen every episode multiple times… as well as the various spinoffs. Sadly, none of those spinoffs were nearly as good as the series that spawned them. Today, we’re going to take a look at the 1980 box-office flop The Nude Bomb (re-titled The Return of Maxwell Smart for TV).

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the synopsis. KAOS threatens to detonate the titular “nude bomb” which will destroy the fabrics of the world and Maxwell Smart - Agent 86 - is called in to foil the plot. Assisting him on his mission are a trio of female agents (36, 22, and 34) along with series veterans Larabee and Agent 13. After side trips to New York City, the Universal Studios backlot (playing itself for once), and Austria, and a car/desk (!) chase, Max and 22 discover the location of the villain’s hideout and confront KAOS designer Norman Saint Sauvage who plans to clothe the world in his own image. In a twist, it’s revealed that Sauvage never existed and is, in fact, a clone of a KAOS scientist named Nino Salvatore Sebastiani, whom Sauvage had killed off earlier. The bizarre climax involves multiple clones of Max and Nino/Sauvage fighting as the nude bombs go off. Eventually, Max kills Nino and escapes with 22. The last shot features them, sans clothes, as they run to the rescue chopper (in a wide shot, thank God).
I enjoyed this movie when I was younger but I watched it again a few years ago (in HD, looking much better than it should) and it doesn’t hold up at all! It’s nice to see the late, great Don Adams back in action again but he can’t save this film. The catchphrases and gags are still there, but many of them aren’t executed very well. While the script is credited to original series writers Leonard Stern and Arne Sultan, as well as Don Adam’s old writing partner Bill Dana (who also appears in the film), according to Stern in later years, they were not welcome on the set and the studio seemingly had no interest in doing anything related to the show. Director Clive Donner was known for smaller character-driven films and brings nothing to the proceedings. (He wasn’t known for his sense of humor either, according to Don Adams.) The film has a dull TV movie look to it and the editing in some scenes is amateurish at best.

When I say the studio wanted little to no association with the series, I’m serious. Max doesn’t even work for CONTROL; instead, he works for PITS, which stands for Provisional Intelligence Tactical Service. The chief is played by Dana Elcar (Ed Platt had passed away) who does what he can with the material. Agent 99 isn’t mentioned, nor is Max and 99’s marriage, or their twins. Barbara Feldon declined to be involved with the film - she chose... wisely. Robert Karvelas (Don Adams’ cousin in real life) returns as Larabee. He’s in fine form here, as he was on the show where he was the chief’s dim-witted assistant and the only character dumber than Max. Agent 13 (a.k.a. the agent who hides in unusual places) is now played by Joey Forman, who had appeared in the series as the Hawaiian detective Harry Hoo. He’s alright, I guess, though a gag featuring him hiding inside the page of a magazine is just... weird!
The aforementioned female agents (36, 22, and 34) are played by Pamela Hensley, Andrea Howard, and Sylvia Kristel. Hensley is best known for playing Princess Ardala in the TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century while Kristel is best known for playing the title character in the Emmanuelle movies (she keeps her clothes on this time). I have no idea what Howard is best known for. She plays Agent 22 and has no chemistry with Don Adams whatsoever. There’s an awkward romance that’s forced into the screenplay – it literally comes out of nowhere. 86 is leery of 22 at first, then admits they can’t fool around on the job (he just assumes she’s interested), and then 22 is jealous when she thinks Max is fooling around with 36 (he isn’t). None of this works. At all. And 34 is in one scene – a glorified cameo, no doubt made by Kristel during her lunch break on Emmanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land.

It’s obvious the studio was trying to fit Max into the James Bond template but they failed miserably. Hell, this was one year after Moonraker. The bar had been lowered - they didn’t have to try that hard! Even the title sequence, featuring the phrase “Would You Believe?” in large letters, is done in the style of a James Bond title sequence… if that title sequence was designed by fifth graders. There’s even a cheesy song, “You’re Always There (When I Need You),” sung by Merry Clayton with music and lyrics by Lalo Schifrin and Don Black, respectively, both of whom have done much better work elsewhere.

There’s another element to this film that I missed when I was younger since the only copy I had was taped from network television. There’s some light profanity in this film as well as some cheap sexual innuendos (and a gratuitous wet t-shirt shot). I have no problem with any of these things but they don’t belong in Get Smart! Max is an innocent – he doesn’t curse! The wet t-shirt gag takes place during a sequence at Universal Studios where Max and 22 are following a lead and quickly find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a shameless promotion for the studio tram tour. It’s neat to see the old Battlestar Galactica attraction but I’m wondering if this was some sort of publicity thing, or if they simply ran out of money and decided to incorporate the lot into the film, as opposed to building a new set or dressing up part of the lot as something else.

Lest you think otherwise, there are one or two highlights in the film. The late Vittorio Gassman plays both Sebastiani and Sauvage and he’s actually pretty good… better than this movie deserves. The part of Carruthers (the Q of this movie) is played by veteran character actor Norman Lloyd, who’s still alive at the young age of 97! For some reason (bad writing), Max takes an instant disliking to Carruthers, but Lloyd gives as good as he gets. He has some great deadpan reactions and I love his slimy delivery when Max asks if his stapler phone can also work as a stapler. Lloyd just glares at him and answers, “No!” I know it’s sad when “No!” is one of the funnier parts of the film. He outfits Max’ apartments with the usual spy gadgets, including a doorbell that’s actually a door knocker, a door knocker that’s actually a doorbell, a wall that’s a door, a door that’s a wall, and a filing cabinet with enough room for Agent 13 to hide in. Coolest of all, Max gets a desk that can be driven like a car. This comes in handy later and I’d love to see something like this in another (better) movie one day. Max is amazed when Carruthers says the desk runs on ink. Unfortunately, the ink comes from the Middle East!

So that’s The Nude Bomb, but it wasn’t the end of the Get Smart franchise. In 1989, the surviving cast members reunited for an ABC TV movie titled Get Smart, Again! Max, 99, Hymie the Robot, Larabee, Agent 13, Siegfried, and Shtarker all return for more of the same. Max and his team are reactivated after KAOS threatens the world with a weather machine. The late Kenneth Mars plays the chief of the generically-named United States Intelligence Agency and there’s a bizarre scene inside a room known as the Hall of Hush where spoken words actually form in mid-air. This time, thankfully, the series is actually acknowledged and Max and 99 are happily married, with the events of The Nude Bomb being ignored completely. This movie is worth watching once and it’s nice to see the whole gang back together but it doesn’t really hold up. One highlight is the opening title sequence in which Max’ trip through the hallway of doors is recreated.
In 1995, Fox aired a short-lived Get Smart sequel series, with Don Adams, Andy Dick, Elaine Hendrix, and, on occasion, Barbara Feldon. 86 is now the chief of Control, 99 is now a Congresswoman (Max still calls her 99), Andy Dick plays their bumbling son Zach (the other Smart twin isn’t seen), and Hendrix is Zach’s partner, Agent 66. The main problem with this show was that, with 86 and Zach as the leads, there was no straight man. The other problem, if I recall, was the constant pre-emption due to football. I don’t remember much from this show, other than the “modernized” title sequence. Bernie Kopell and Dave Ketchum showed up again as Siegfried and Agent 13, respectively, and they even managed to reference Kopell’s role as Doc on The Love Boat. One genius idea was the character of Agent 0, a master of disguise played by a different actor in every episode. (I had forgotten about the canned laughter and cheap production value but after watching a clip on YouTube... yikes!) This show lasted seven episodes

The only thing I have to say about the 2008 Steve Carell movie is that, while walking out of the theater, I managed to tell my friend, “That was surprisingly not terrible.” I have no interest in watching it again – if I did, I’d probably think it was terrible. If Hollywood ever tries to make another Get Smart movie, they’d be wise to hire Alan Spencer, the creator of the 80s TV series Sledge Hammer. On the other hand, after watching his recent IFC series Bullet in the Face, it’s obvious Spencer needs someone to rein him in.

It would seem I just pulled the old “review one movie and throw in two mini-reviews at the end” trick!

(P.S. I always use original poster artwork for my reviews but the poster for The Nude Bomb is so bad that I used the old VHS box art instead!)

49 comments:

shawn said...

I acutally saw The Nude Bomb in the theater when it came out and felt about it the way you do now, meh. Definitely could have used Buck Henry's writing talent. I never saw the Fox tv show, but I do remember Andy Dick issuing an apology for ruining people's fond memories of Get Smart shortly after it was cancelled.

ScottDS said...

Buck Henry really only wrote a handful of episodes (and Mel Brooks wrote even less). The writers weren't the problem - Leonard Stern and the others had proven themselves years earlier, both on the series and elsewhere.

The problem was the studio - they either made them change everything or ignored their suggestions completely. In an interview with wouldyoubelieve.com, Stern wondered why the studio even bothered buying the thing in the first place.

As for Andy Dick, I vaguely recall the apology. I don't know the order of events but he got Get Smart and Newsradio at the same time - he was in two shows simultaneously so it was clear one of them was not long for this world. For what it's worth, I'm glad Newsradio was the show that lasted. It's still the last great three-camera workplace sitcom IMHO.

BIG MO said...

Would you believe ... The only part of this movie I ever saw was the ending (or endings, which I hope remains a distant memory). I never saw the recent movie and have no desire to do so. I dislike modern versions of my childhood shows.

But I LOVED "Get Smart." Grew up with reruns in the 70s and 80s. The closing title still makes me laugh when a door slams closed on Max's nose.

ScottDS said...

BIG MO -

I love it, too. I'm thankful I managed to grow up when shows of this vintage still aired on television and not only that, Nick at Night made a really big deal about this show when it first premiered in 1991. They aired every episode over the span of a week as part of a marathon called "Maximum Smart." I was only in the 2nd grade but it was love at first site!

This movie might be worth watching simply as a mild curiosity but I'll respect your opinion if you simply choose not to see it.

As for the recent one... meh. Even in the theater, I was spotting places where they could've had more jokes or homages to the show. Many of the characters were CINO: characters in name only. Terrence Stamp played Siegfried but it was really just a generic villain named Siegfried. And so on and so forth.

If they gave me the keys to the car and I could develop a sequel, I'd keep Steve Carell and Alan Arkin (as the Chief)... I'd bring in an actress closer to Carell's age to play 99 (someone like Catherine Bell)... and I'd have the villain be The Craw - sorry, The Claw.

And after the studio nixes that idea for being too un-PC, I'd make... okay, I haven't given it that much thought. :-)

Anthony said...

I watched reruns of Get Smart quite a bit when I was a kid, primarily because my father is a huge fan.

I liked it, but the only things I can recall clearly are the 'doors closing' sequence and Max's revisionist line 'Would you believe...?'.

ScottDS said...

Anthony -

Yeah, that's what most people clearly recall from it. :-) The opening and closing title sequences with the hallway of doors are probably my all-time favorites of any series.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I was a big fan of Get Smart, but the films left me very cold. They seemed lifeless and just lacked the sharp sense of humor as the series. In many ways, it always made me think that they had started treated Max as a caricature rather than a character.

Retro Hound said...

Don't you remember Andrea Howard from Thank God It's Friday?

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I agree. Don Adams does the best he can but I think people simply thought of Max as "bumbling spy" and that particular character archetype is a dime a dozen. But the writing on Get Smart was, well... smart... which is why so many other "bumbling spy" stories have fallen by the wayside over the years. And Max is actually smarter than many of those characters. And he's sincere, which is a quality that's missing from a lot of the copycats.

ScottDS said...

Retro -

No, I don't. :-)

But after a cursory glance at its IMDb page, I may have to check it out one day. Apparently, it was directed by the guy who later wrote the Weekend at Bernie's movies. (And I'm a big fan of those!)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's a good point. You know what I don't like at all even though it should be right up my alley? Johnny English. I should like all of the elements, but it just bores me because he's Maxwell Smart without the cleverness or the smarts and without the sincerity. JE feels like a movie character, Max feels like a real spy who somehow succeeds despite himself.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I was waiting for someone to mention that film. My problem with it (the first one; I never saw the second one) was that it just wasn't funny.

And in many of these movies, the bumbling spy is paired with a hot female agent who ends up doing all the work. In that respect, many of these movies are more like Inspector Gadget where Penny and Brain would solve the case while Gadget was out doing... something.

Max and 99 perfectly complemented each other.

I recall Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard but I barely remember it. I guess that answers my own question then!

tryanmax said...

I absolutely love the Get Smart series, so I agree the that movies and spin-offs, TNB especially, are all disappointments. I remember watching the reboot as a kid, and conceptually it had the most potential of any of the projects. The only real flaw--a huge flaw to be sure--was the lack of a straight man. Too much reliance on a template and obviously no consideration of the comic possibilities of a competent agent under Max's (of all people!) command. A million jabs at bureaucracy spring instantly to mind!

I also distinctly remember the "hall of hush" which I thought was brilliant. But again, I was a kid the last time I saw it. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the reason the film wasn't funny is that it's fundamentally flawed with the character. The Mr. Bean stuff works because he's just believable enough to exist in the real world. Max works because he's just believable enough to exist in the kind of half-real world they created. JE simply doesn't work. His world is too real and he's too unreal, so the jokes feel forced and painful rather than funny.

Individualist said...

You know

when you are 16 the concept of a bomg that makes everyone nude is something that has a lot more appeal than it does later on in life.

Get Smart was unique and the remake never quite got the cachet... caroll did a good job but it womehow felt off

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

I used to love Get Smart Again! but I watched it again recently on Netflix and it's a bit of a drag. It's nice to see the old gang in action but a lot of the jokes simply repeat themselves and were done much better the first time around anyway. I agree the Hall of Hush was a genius idea, along with Max' sports jacket with all the hidden compartments.

BIG MO said...

I love mentioning "the cone of silence" to my co-workers, because some remember it fondly while others are just discovering it.

And there are many times I wish I had one.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I agree. Another thing that comes to mind is, a lot of the physical gags in the Get Smart series weren't always the result of Max' clumsiness. I remember the genius gag of Max, tied to a stretcher, trying to get through a revolving door.

Funny concept, but not because Max was bumbling... it was simply a man in a funny situation and in that respect, Max was almost a straight man as much as he was the comedian.

Things happened to him as much as he caused them to happen.

ScottDS said...

Indi -

I agree! But it's worth noting that all of the salacious stuff in The Nude Bomb, including the title itself, was the result of studio meddling. The writers' original concept was simply a funny one: the idea of a foppish man who wanted to clothe the world in his own image. The studio latched on to the "nude" aspect and ran with it.

ScottDS said...

BIG MO -

Anytime some tells me "Don't tell anyone!" I always mention the Cone of Silence. Most people get it; some don't. And the ones that do get it never expect a 20-something (almost 30) to use the reference!

ScyFyterry said...

I think this film failed even from the concept. The idea of a nude bomb sounds like it could be funny, but the moment you start thinking about it, it really isn't all the funny. It's a 10 second site gag and it doesn't lend itself to a wide variety of humor. It also strikes me as a writer trying too hard to be zany.

ScottDS said...

ScyFy -

I don't disagree but I guess we'll never know exactly what the writers had in mind. It sounds like an idea that would've been better suited for one 30-minute episode as opposed to a 90-minute film.

Joel Farnham said...

ScottDS,

I think Get Smart/Nude Bomb like Firefly/Serenity needed the original writers and actors for it to work. Any attempts at a remake are bound to fail. Hard to capture that spirit.

ScottDS said...

Joel -

That's the thing: of the three writers attached to The Nude Bomb, two were veterans of the show and the other one had worked with Don Adams elsewhere on TV.

This was a case where the studio hired them and then for some reason, didn't want them around.

I have to believe there are talented writers out there who can capture the spirit, but they have to want to do it and they need the support of their studio.

Joel Farnham said...

Off Topic

Alex Karras has died. He is probably the only NFL player to have successfully made the jump to Hollywood. I liked him in Victor/Victoria and in the series Webster. He was great in Blazing Saddles.

ScottDS said...

Joel -

What about O.J.? :-)

Anyway, it bears repeating: "Mongo only pawn in game of life."

Joel Farnham said...

ScottDS,

You have got a point, but to me O.J. committed Hollywood suicide when .... well you know.

ScottDS said...

Joel -

I know, and I was being tongue in cheek.

In fact, I was just telling a friend that, with all the crap in the news today, I almost - almost! - miss when the O.J. trial was the biggest thing in the world. :-)

K said...

Love Get Smart. I have the first two seasons on DVD - the first season is better IMO.

ScottDS said...

K -

I think all the seasons are pretty good... even the much-maligned fifth season (when the show moved to CBS and got that jazzy title theme) isn't completely terrible.

How can I hate a season featuring an episode with Vincent Price as KAOS' mad pharmacist? :-)

(For a good example of a show that should've ended one season earlier, see Seinfeld.)

tryanmax said...

Indie, Scott, I'll tell you exactly what was off about the new Get Smart movie, and it wasn't Steve Carell. I thought he did a great job of both paying homage to Adams and making the role of Maxwell Smart his own. I would say the writers even found the right combination of clumsiness and awkward situations.

For me, the problem was Anne Hathaway's Agent 99. I'm not laying it entirely on the actress b/c the problem starts from the script. Barbara Feldon's 99 regarded Max's bumbling and awkwardness as endearing and was rather protective of him. Hathaway's 99 was clearly and singularly annoyed by Max and all too willing to let him suffer his lumps. The former dynamic is probably harder to play to comedic effect, but it has the advantage of not forcing the audience to take sides. The latter dynamic is far easier to play as comedy, and so it is overdone and feels that way. Plus it forces the audience to choose between the main characters. Thus, we are either annoyed by Max as 99 is (which is not a desirable affect for the hero) or we feel that 99 is a stuck-up b****. Neither one makes the viewer feel good.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

I agree 100%. It also makes the romantic element seem forced. They hate each other, or rather, 99 hates Max, then she flashes back to their time together and realizes her true feelings for him?

What time together? They just met a few days earlier and she hated him for most of that time!

I don't blame Hathaway, or Carell - they did the best with what they were given.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Along the lines of your comment to tryanmax, the whole script feels hacked together, like they just wrote it scene by scene with no coherence. e.g. "Oh, it would be good if she suddenly fell for Max"... and there was no thought to the relationship up to that point. To me, the whole movie feels like that, like they made it one scene at a time without thinking about anything more than "oh, it would be cool if..."

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I just don't think the filmmakers' hearts were in it. I'm sure it happens a lot - the studio thought to themselves, "Hey, what about this property? Is there anything we can do with this?" So they hire a flavor-of-the-month comedy screenwriter and a flavor-of-the-month comedy director and then they completely disregard the source material.

Just another day in showbiz!

To add insult to injury, the studio wanted to deny royalties to Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, claiming that they created the original series as a "work for hire" for another company and were not due any credit or financial compensation.

For more, scroll to the bottom of this page.

T-Rav said...

Ummm....okay, maybe I just don't "get" Get Smart, but a bomb that destroys all fabrics? What the...??? Were they just phoning it in, or is this how most episodes went?

Kit said...

As someone who grew up with re-runs of the show in TV Land and I actually enjoyed the Get Smart movie. Ok, its silly but I still enjoyed it!

PikeBishop said...

One word: Ugh! You guys actually wasted bandwidth on this piece of crap! I am disappointed!

T-Rav said...

PikeBishop, that's fourteen words.

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree with your conclusions Scott. Comedy t.v. shows often have trouble as films. Somethings are better in small doses.

shawn said...

Aw the Craw... that takes me back.

I agree with Tryanmax- the remake really failed in establishing the romantic aspects of 86 and 99 relationship. I thought the movie was passable, but certainly not enough to buy it on DVD.

ScottDS said...

T-Rav -

That's actually how a lot of episodes went. Sure, they did your standard Cold War "The bad guys have a nuke!" type of story or "So and so is a defector!"... but they also went a bit crazy at times - I'd say they reached the border between "out there" and "completely unbelievable." :-)

Many episodes also parodied popular TV shows, like I Spy and The Fugitive.

ScottDS said...

Kit -

As I wrote above, I grew up with it, too. If you liked the movie, that's just fine... I just hate when a movie easily could've been better and wasn't because the filmmakers didn't care enough or try hard enough.

ScottDS said...

Pike -

Just think of all the bandwidth and terabytes of storage dedicated to the Star Wars prequels.

This article doesn't seem so bad now, does it? :-D

ScottDS said...

Jed -

I don't know but part of me thinks it's a matter of timing... and you can't have a 90-minute film full of sitcom-style gags and pratfalls. There needs to be more.

ScottDS said...

shawn -

I have no interest in buying the DVD. In fact, I'm really not interested in seeing it again.

I would, however, love to see an actual fan of the show give it another shot in 10 or 15 years.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, for those who don't visit the main site all that often, there is sad news tonight -- Lawhawk has passed. (LINK)

Individualist said...

Tyranmax

You are exactly right.....

Hathaway spends the film trying to show the bumbling man what a bad ass she is in the remake. Feldon had a more traditional women's view on a man fumbling over himself to impress her bu who meant well.

Hathaway had to follow the 21st century feminist war of the sexes motiff and show the men who really is the tougher sex. This seems the norm in Hollywood nowadays.

ScottDS said...

Indi -

The thing is, to the best of my knowledge, even though she found Max' bumbling charming (or at least tolerable), 99 was considered a bit of a feminist icon herself. Hathaway didn't have to go the badass route at all - she simply could've done what Feldon did with the original and no one would've thought less of her (well, except for some critics). :-)

Alex said...

Blah! As a huge fan, thanks to Nick at Nite reruns, I thought that this movie stunk. The Get Smart, Again! show was marginally better, but I just remember it all felt like it was trying too hard to "recapture the magic" of the original. To me, it all felt like re-hashes of gags that worked in the original. It all felt tired, like the actors (and writers!) were going through the motions. Too bad.

As for the recent Steve Carrell-Anne Hathaway film, I did not like it at all. I felt like it started out promising enough, yet I thought that both Max and Agent 99 came across as jerks--there was no chemistry, if you ask me. I don't know if I saw the "feminism/men-suck" attitude in it. It just felt mean-spirited.

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