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Get Smart, Wanted among capsule film reviews

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THE FOOT FIST WAY Certainly, we here at CL want to promote and celebrate regional filmmaking whenever possible, but not at the expense of credibility. To be sure, somebody appreciated this low-budget comedy co-written by buddies Jody Hill (who also directed), Danny McBride and Ben Best (all products of the North Carolina School of the Arts), and that somebody would be Will Ferrell, who loved this film so much that his production company picked it up and he was able to secure a limited national release for it. The star's interest is hardly surprising, since The Foot Fist Way basically plays like a Will Ferrell vehicle without Will Ferrell. Here, the central man-child is Fred Simmons (McBride), a doltish Tae Kwon Do instructor who runs his own martial arts school in a Concord, N.C., strip mall. Fred is married to a slatternly wife (Mary Jane Bostic) prone to copying her bare boobs and butt on the office Xerox machine (and who gets off the script's funniest line: "I was really drunk; like Myrtle Beach drunk"), and his misplaced self-esteem crumbles after she admits to giving her boss a hand job. Fred takes his aggression out on his students (most of whom are kids), and even his moment of triumph – getting a Tae Kwon Do champ-turned-B-movie-actor (Best) to visit his school – ends badly. Audience members satisfied with a comedy that offers a handful of ever-so-mild smiles will enjoy this, but anyone on the prowl for sharp satire or even a belly laugh or two will be sorely disappointed by a film whose smugness is never justified by its frat-house humor. *1/2

GET SMART Get Smart, the TV sitcom that aired from 1965 to 1970, was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and these legendary funnymen are listed in the credits of this spin-off as "creative consultants." The word is that neither actually had any real input in this movie, which probably explains why major facets differ from what fans fondly recall about the show. But in at least one respect, there's a striking similarity: Both have no problem providing the laughs. In the hit series, Don Adams starred as bumbling agent Maxwell Smart while Barbara Feldon played his more competent partner, Agent 99. Working for a government unit known as C.O.N.T.R.O.L., the secret agents had their hands full protecting the world from the rival outfit K.A.O.S. In this update, which seems as much a James Bond spoof as a Get Smart homage, the plot similarly finds Steve Carell's Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 out to stop K.A.O.S. head Siegfried (Terence Stamp). All of the performers (including Alan Arkin and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) are given a scene or two in which to shine, although most of the best set pieces belong to the leads. There's a ballroom sequence involving Maxwell and a hefty dance partner that's surprisingly sweet-natured – for once, a film honors an overweight person rather than simply making fun – while Agent 99 gets off a monologue that culminates in a sentimental mention of her mom. And therein lies much of the appeal of this big-screen Get Smart: In between the gags and the action scenes, there's an identifiable human element at work, and this empathy prevents this from being just another big, dumb summer comedy. ***

THE HAPPENING The Happening starts off well before steadily traipsing downhill, and in that respect, it perfectly mirrors writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's career in this spooky vein. The Sixth Sense may have been a smash, but each subsequent film was less satisfying than the one which preceded it, leading all the way to his disastrous last film, Lady In the Water. The Happening at least represents a step up from that debacle. Opening in NYC, the first scenes show countless people suddenly become zombie-like before proceeding to take their own lives. It's soon revealed that this phenomenon is spreading to all major cities throughout the northeast chamber of the country; this includes Philadelphia, where a high school science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) elect to leave town before the plague hits. Or is it a plague? No one has a definitive answer, and for a while, Shyamalan steadfastly refuses to give us any hints. It's during these early passages, when we're as baffled as the characters, that the film is at its strongest. But the self-appointed master of the last-minute twist here elects to reveal the mystery somewhere around the halfway mark. It's such a threadbare revelation – and a rather silly one, to boot – that the movie then ambles forward with nothing else left to say. As for Shyamalan's usual on-screen appearance, it proves to be the most clever aspect of the movie. I don't dare ruin the surprise, but if you don't figure it out while watching the flick, be sure to carefully check the cast list in the end credits. Unfortunately, when a movie's best bit arrives during the closing credits, we're all in trouble. **

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