Who’s in CONTROL?: Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell in Get Smart.
Admirers of the series might have been hoping for more of a Police Squad! flavor, especially since Get Smart director Peter Segal previously guided The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994). The Office’s
Steve Carell also provides apt casting as Agent 86 Maxwell Smart,
because like Leslie Nielsen, Carell has mastered the ability to play an
utter boob who thinks he’s intelligent with a straight face. And Anne
Hathaway, more dishy than she was in The Devil Wears Prada,
easily inhabits the hotsy role of Agent 99, even to the point of
delivering the come-hither purr of original lead Barbara Feldon.
Too bad the globetrotting script penned by the writing team of Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (Failure to Launch)
gets in the way. It’s a compendium of spy-vs.-spy stock situations that
were played on sparsely decorated back lots and indoor sets in the
series. But those plot riffs make an uneasy transition to a
multimillion-dollar action comedy for the multiplex trade. The scribes
have also rejiggered the original’s sexual dynamic, which featured
Smart as a bumbler who nevertheless projected supreme confidence and 99
as a tyro agent who always turned out to be smarter than Smart.
The movie version has Smart as a
desk-bound analyst for the all-American spy bureau CONTROL who gets his
belated shot as a secret agent when Control’s Chief (Alan Arkin,
subbing for the long-departed Edward Platt) runs out of other spies to
battle the Eurotrash forces of archenemy KAOS, such as nasty Conrad
Siegfried (Terence Stamp) and his inept cohort Shtarker (Borat’s Ken Davitian). Smart gets teamed with 99, presented here as a veteran enforcer in the modes of Uma Thurman from Kill Bill and La Femme Nikita’s Anne Parillaud, with Max alternately jealous of her skills yet also falling in love with her beauty and brains.
This conflict builds to what’s supposed
to be a comic crescendo in a Russia-based scene during a swank party
filled with spies. As an undercover 99 dances with a handsome enemy
agent, an incensed Smart decides to tango with a portly miss (Lindsay
Hollister). The slapstick setup promises much, but director Segal’s
off-tempo pacing fails to seal the deal, with yeoman chuckles as the
result. And while Carell is always fun to watch, even this inspired
clown needs more clever shtick to work with.
Other sequences come across as slavish
replications from better movies, such as a skydiving interlude pilfered
from the 1979 James Bond opus Moonraker and a dodge-the-laser-beams encounter that pays homage to Catherine Zeta-Jones’ sultry moves in Entrapment. Guest appearances, which were the source of frequent gags on the TV show, also punctuate the Get Smart movie; James Caan’s brief turn as the U.S. president allows for a momentary reunion with his Freebie and the Bean
co-star Arkin, while series regular Bernie Kopell (who played
Siegfried) pops up in a welcome cameo. Indeed, nostalgia for the 1960s
TV show often drives the movie remake, with fond recollections of
gadgets like the Cone of Silence in abundance.
As cinematic summertime behemoths go, Get Smart
rates as harmless, you-could-do-worse fare with a few surprises up its
sleeve, particularly the refinement of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a
dependable second banana. Still, die-hard fans are advised to check out
Don Adams in The Nude Bomb: The Return of Maxwell Smart, the
1980 movie adaptation which is in current rotation on the HBO-Cinemax
pay-cable channels. While no great shakes as a comedy classic,
comparisons with the new flick are inevitable—and those aficionados are
likely to comment about the new Get Smart movie, “Missed it by that much.”