With the identity of its spies compromised, US spy agency CONTROL is forced to send analyst Maxwell Smart (Carell) into the field. Teamed with glamorous Agent 99 (Hathaway), he must prevent world domination by crime syndicate KAOS.
The sacred cows in America’s television back-catalogue have suffered bloody slaughter on their journey to the big screen. For every Batman, there’s been a Bewitched; for every Star Trek, a Starsky & Hutch. Some are scuppered by a surfeit of reverence to the source; many more by an overplayed wink to an audience simply wanting a nostalgia trip to their televisual youth. No such mistake has been made with Get Smart, a largely faithful and mercifully straight re-imagining of a TV show not overly familiar to British audiences.
In the States, this late-’60s sitcom, devised by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, followed the weekly exploits of Maxwell Smart, a not entirely hopeless but certainly hapless secret agent working for US agency CONTROL against the forces of KAOS. In the hands of Steve Carell, Smart evokes the spirit of Peter Sellers even more than the series’ original star, Don Adams, doing what Steve Martin in Sgt. Bilko and Johnny Knoxville in The Dukes Of Hazzard failed to do: play it straight. And in the simplest terms, that’s why it’s funny.
In many ways, Maxwell Smart is the role Carell was born to play. The 007 wannabe exudes the guileless quality of his 40-year-old virgin; the sobriety-in-the-face-of-absurdity of his Daily Show ‘news’ reporter; and the well-meaning clumsiness of his Office boss. It’s the perfect amalgam of his specialist skills, though Get Smart isn’t quite the perfect showcase for them.
Definitely too long, the story of KAOS honcho Siegfried (Terence Stamp in the quintessential British baddie role) and his threat to do evil things with bombs is overly convoluted. You find yourself waiting for director Peter Segal (50 First Dates) to get the plot out of the way so we can get back to the pratfalls, the action and the jokes.
Of which, incidentally, there are many. Dwayne ‘The Artist formerly known as The Rock’ Johnson, as smooth-talking Agent 23, proves he’s as adept at walking into a wall as he is at whooping ass, and the stunning Anne Hathaway highkicks her way through the film and into your heart. Add in high-end CG and stunt work, and it’s clear why they’re talking franchise.
Despite a plot that should be simpler, Get Smart is as big on action as it is on laughs and works because its less a tired spoof and more a quality comedic adventure movie in its own right.