If you and I were to get
together with thirty of our friends, the room would contain thirty-two
opinions on what's funny.
One person will think that puns are the highest form
of humor. His neighbor will consign puns to the lowest level of
the Inferno. Another guy will miss the pun entirely, but laugh like a
kookaburra at the ethnic joke. (After all, one man's Mede is another
One thing we might all agree on, if regressed far
enough through therapy or deep hypnosis, is that most of us started our
laughing careers by snickering at bodily functions. Remember? There was
nothing funnier than a poop reference or a flatulence noise, especially
if coupled to a mention of the human hinder parts, when we were between
the ages of three and eight.
After that we began to get curious about sex. Even
though it was too early to have any hands-on experience it just sounded
funny, and it was what everybody else always talked about, so we made
jokes about it until it became deadly serious for us too, at about age
fourteen. (It took a few decades before we could laugh at sex again.)
Hollywood producers are a nostalgic lot. They
believe that mature audiences are dying to re-live experiences they had
while being potty trained, or while making hideously embarrassing
mistakes with the opposite sex, and will pay lots of money to laugh at
the reminders. And the producers are not talking through their hat: in
our control group of thirty-two, at least a half-dozen otherwise very
nice people will be looking for exactly that.
Fortunately for that puerile twenty-something
percentile of the population, Mike Myers (the Dean of Arrested
Development) was able to persuade Michael De Luca Productions that it
was a pretty good risk to make “The Love Guru.”
Unfortunately for Mr. De Luca, I fear that a much
smaller percentage is likely to show up to watch Mr. Myers burlesque a
Hindu spiritual leader from the Beatles era by coming up with many
amusing euphemisms for excrement, and sight gags where dessert
resembles male genitalia.
Is anybody up for this? A few well-known stars are,
including Sir Ben Kingsley, where one of two things applies: either he
is spoofing his Oscar-winning performance as the Mahatma Gandhi by
crossing his eyes and peeing in a bucket, or he's thinking of the
rupees that are ka-chinging into his retirement account.
And I've heard enough about Jessica Alba's terrible
acting from everybody I know. I think she is an accomplished actress
who takes direction splendidly, because the director constantly orders
her to gaze adoringly at Mike Myers while he makes yet another limp
tumescence joke, and she does that very well indeed.
I'd say something here about Mike Myers's career
being at an end, but I've been saying it since he was on Saturday Night
Live, and I keep getting proved wrong. Apparently our hypothetical
twenty percent is just enough to keep him going.
Another example of the nostalgia syndrome is being
screened down the hall. There are a few things wrong with “Get Smart,”
but the wrong things don't end up making it a bad movie, just a long
First off, I want to have a word with my coevalists,
the Baby Boomers, who grew up watching 60s TV: just because it's
different doesn't make it bad. No, the movie is not the show we
remember, but we didn't have the underwear jokes.
To begin with, Steve Carrell is much too likable as
Maxwell Smart. Likable, and talented: the guy has comprehension,
timing, and delivery, which are the basics of comedy, after the REAL
basics of falling down and breaking wind and wetting yourself.
“Get Smart” has a whole lot of chases and fights and
adventure stuff that are very well done, but they belong in a Matthew
Bourne movie rather than a Maxwell Smart comedy. Does that bother me?
No, it just helps me re-imagine Maxwell Smart as a really smart Agent
86 for a change, who's trying like hell to be cool and attractive to
Agent 99, which was the whole point to begin with.
Anne Hathaway, who is one of my favorite young
performers (in spite of the
wheeze), is smooth and svelte as Agent 99.
Alan Arkin, one of our greatest character actors, is
along for the ride, so mazeltov to him - even though he has to pilot a
plane with no punch lines for most of the last reel.
The plane shows us some great exterior shots of
Frank Gehry's new Disney Concert Hall in LA, and the interior shots are
also authentic. And here is a spoiler, one that nobody will complain
How do we know before Smart does that the bomb is
under the piano on stage during the Beethoven Ninth?
Because there is no piano in the score of the
A few weeks ago I wrote about preposterous things
that are put into movies for fun; here's an example of a preposterous
thing that's just unresearched. Who cares? I do, and maybe you do too.
Is Comedy dead? No, it just keeps shifting. If the
joke isn't funny, wait a minute.