And with Steve Carell hitting screens nationwide this week in the new comedy “Get Smart,” based on the classic ’60s TV spy spoof, it’s a good time for the “Office” star to perhaps evaluate everything he’s done right to get this far while also learning from the mistakes of his peers.
Carell’s ascendancy has been a rather dizzying one. After becoming one of the most popular correspondents on “The Daily Show,” Carell got to display his winning blend of I’m-an-idiot wordplay and gracefully graceless physical comedy on the big screen in the 2003 Carrey hit “Bruce Almighty.” (And even though no one was watching “Watching Ellie,” I loved his performance as Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ unctuous ex in the short-lived sitcom.)
Since “Bruce,” he’s cemented his comedy cred with films such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (which he co-wrote) and “Anchorman,” while also getting raves for more serious turns in “Dan in Real Life” and the Oscar-nominated “Little Miss Sunshine.” Even his voice work in the animated features “Over the Hedge” and “Horton Hears a Who!” stood out as the best things in both movies.
And then of course there’s “The Office.” Carell’s portrayal of self-involved doofus boss man Michael Scott not only garnered the actor a Golden Globe, but also won over fans of Ricky Gervais’ original British series who were convinced that there was no way a U.S. version could be as good or as squirmy. Michael Scott is just as awful a boss as Gervais’ David Brent, but Carell (and the show’s writers) made the regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin into a uniquely hilarious and irritating piece of work.
Beware the company you keep
One would think that after having played a small role in 2005’s “Bewitched,” Carell would think twice about doing a movie based on a 1960s sitcom. Taking the lead role in that misbegotten flop didn’t do Will Ferrell any favors, and it doesn’t look like “Get Smart” will be a big plus for Carell, either.
For every high-concept summer comedy that works, there are dozens that don’t, and the fact that “Get Smart” comes from the writers of “Failure to Launch” and the director of “50 First Dates” might have given Carell a big red flag to stay away from this one, no matter how sweet the paycheck.
Take a few personal days
One of the best things about Carell staying on “The Office” is the fact that it limits the time in his schedule he can devote to making new movies. That would presumably make him pickier about the films he does make, and it also means that he’s not bombarding the multiplex with movie after movie after movie.
Please, not the sad-clown routine
It was once said that every comic wanted to play Hamlet. It’s probably truer now that every screen comedian wants to be Tom Hanks, who graduated from cross-dressing shenanigans on TV’s “Bosom Buddies” to back-to-back tear-jerking Oscars for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” to Hollywood elder statesmen status.
And while masters of comedy can certainly shine in a dramatic context — Carell in “Little Miss Sunshine” or Ferrell in “Stranger Than Fiction,” to name just two examples — it’s a slippery slope to Roberto Benigni-ville. Carrey gets a pass for “The Majestic” thanks to “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and the strength of Carell’s performance in “Dan in Real Life” outshines that film’s myriad script and direction problems. But tread carefully these waters, Steve Carell, lest ye become Robin Williams.
Don’t be a one-shtick pony
Once a comic star makes it big, he often gets cast in the same role over and over again. In comedies, Will Ferrell does the manchild, Ben Stiller is the angry guy, Robin Williams plays the manic lunatic and Jim Carrey plays … the other manic lunatic. If Carell isn’t careful, he’s going to be asked to repeat his character from “The Office” over and over and over again. (His Maxwell Smart reads disconcertingly like Michael Scott with a license to kill.)
And it doesn’t have to be this way. Carell’s performances in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Little Miss Sunshine” have proven that he has other arrows in his comedy quiver, and it will behoove him to continue to stretch and show new facets of his personality in film work, no matter how lucrative it might be to play variations on a theme.
If the audience can’t predict every beat of the plot and every tonal moment simply because you’re in the movie, then you’re on the right track. And if you say no to “Dan In Real Life 2,” so much the better.