I approached the big screen remake of Get Smart with a ton of trepidation. I grew up on the original series, and on the movies of Mel Brooks in general, so Don Adams will always be Maxwell Smart to me, Barbara Feldon will always be Agent 99, and the classic Get Smart will always remain one of my favorite television series of all time. Even after Steve Carrell (whom I love) was cast as the new Maxwell Smart, I was troubled. Could it possibly compare to the brilliance that was the original Brooks/Henry series? All the other remakes of old 60s TV shows sucked on toast, and I wasn’t even a big fan of those old shows, but this property is one of my favorites. I expected my childhood memories to be spoiled.
Maxwell Smart (Carrell) is one of CONTROL’s top analysts. He’s a brilliant linguist, if a bit flighty, and is one of CONTROL’s most valuable assets around the office thanks to his devotion and incredibly long, detailed reports. Unfortunately, because of (or in spite of) his mind, Max is entirely too valuable to do what he really wants to do, be an active secret agent out in the field. He’s got the brains, but he’s not exactly the most formidable fighter on the block, unlike superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson, WWE’s The Rock).
After CONTROL is compromised thanks to a double agent and a KAOS break-in, all the field agents are identified and eliminated or recalled to base, leaving only two people able to foil a plot involving nuclear weapons attacks, Agent 86 Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), who recently underwent radical plastic surgery. Of course, the more experienced Agent 99 isn’t exactly champing at the bit to take the 40-year-old’s mission virginity, especially not on such a big case, but she doesn’t have much choice. Siegfried (Terence Stamp) and KAOS must be stopped.
While the movie has a lot of familiar faces (including Bill Murray, David Koechner, Alan Arkin, Terry Crews, Masa Oki, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Nealon, Larry Miller, James Garner, and Bernie Kopell), it’s up to the titular agent to carry the film, and Steve Carrell does so very well. He’s a very likable, smart actor with a great comedic delivery. He’s not Don Adams, but he doesn’t try to be, even when delivering his take on the classic Adams catchphrases. He equates himself well in the action sequences, and is especially crackling in the delivery of the dialogue, careful not to stray too far into Michael Scott territory.
Most of the movie hinges on Max’s relationship with the more competent and experienced Agent 99, played with a great deal of maturity and spunk by Hathaway. She’s got great chemistry with Carrell, and the two really play off one another very well from the first moment she appears on screen. Then again, Carrell works well with everyone in the movie, from the anti-Max field specialist Agent 23 to David Koechner’s mocking, boorish Larabee. Carrell is the glue that holds the picture together, but he doesn’t fight with the other characters for screen dominance, easily yielding to Ken Davitian’s Shartker or the tech geeks Bruce (Masa Oki) and Lloyd (Nate Torrence). The movie doesn’t force Smart on us, and Carrell never insists upon being the center of attention (though he does steal a lot of scenes).
Get Smart the movie isn’t Get Smart the television series, but it is pretty faithful to the spirit of the original. Max has a variety of gadgets that he’s not able to use correctly (to hilarious effect), 99 does most of the hard work, and most importantly of all, it indulges in action scenes (with little to no CGI, refreshingly) without overpowering what Get Smart is supposed to be, a comedy. It’s legitimately laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s got some great set pieces to go along with the impressive verbal comedy.
I went in the theater with a ton of doubts, but I left still chuckling. It’s uncharacteristic for the film’s starring character to deliberately take a back seat to everyone else in the movie, but in this case it was a wise move that worked out in the end. Get Smart just plain worked for me, updating the humor of the show while maintaining the combination of smart dialogue and silly slapstick, with a healthy dose of added action and a TON of callbacks to the original show that consistently caused the smile to return to my face.
Whatever you might want to say about this film, about how it deviates from the original series, at least they got it right. It works and there’s legitimate chemistry between the male and female leads, and that’s more than you can say about, oh, The Incredible Hulk. It’s what a big-budget summer comedy is supposed to be.