The 1965-1970 television series of "Get Smart" may have paved the way for a whole new subgenre of spy spoofs, but forty years later it's overworked and overdone to the point of tedium. The problem with this belated screen adaptation, outside of the obvious suspectsit's unfunny, it's derivative, it's dopeyis that director Peter Segal (2005's "The Longest Yard
") and screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (2006's "Failure to Launch
") have failed to put a fresh or inviting spin on an oft-trodden, clothesline-thin plot. From 2000's infectious "Charlie Angels
" reinvention, to 2002's "The Tuxedo
," to 2003's "Johnny English
," this brand of "007" parodying is, by now, nothing new and frankly boring. Worse, "Get Smart" forgets for stretches that it's a comedy at all, and the action finale, complete with fights atop runaway cars and helicopters narrowly flying overhead is like watching a Michael Bay flick (albeit one with slightly more coherence).
The plotbig surprisehas to do with a nefarious crime force known as KAOS that seeks world domination by way of compromising spy agency CONTROL and detonating nuclear devices in Russia and Los Angeles. Assigned to the mission are eager-to-please analyst-turned-agent Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) and beautiful, no-nonsense Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), an unlikely pair who trade arguments and barbs until they realize they share deeper feelings for each other. There truthfully is no more story than that, and it's awfully slim pickings for a running length of 110 minutes.
"Get Smart" is deadly for the first third and less intrusively second-rate for the remainder. Momentum early on has the bumpiness of a sled scraping against dry mountain rocks. The premise, when it finally arrives, is simplistic and slightly insulting; couldn't anything more original have been thought up? The supporting characters are generally charmless, including the round of other agents at CONTROL. The pacing picks up in fits in startsthere are a few diverting action scenes (the best involving a daring skydive), some attractive location shooting in Washington, D.C. and Russia, and a great little scene involving a purposefully exaggerated dance-off that treats an overweight character with good humor and respect rather than as a butt of the jokebut not enough to retain the viewer's undivided attention. As for the reveal in the third act of a double-agent working at CONTROL, it isn't just telegraphed in advance, but his/her identity is exceedingly obvious.
The mass appeal of Steve Carell is a mystery to me. He showed vulnerability and comic timing in 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin
," but that film's laughs were due more to Judd Apatow's sharp writing of characters and situations than because of the lead actor. He was also a nice fit for 2007's "Dan in Real Life
," a more subtle slice-of-life that called for his role to be purposefully bland and adrift. As far as being a genuinely funny actor, though, Carell just isn't. As Maxwell Smart in "Get Smart," he plays the part with a modicum of level-headed intelligence, which goes against the character's frequently bumbling theatrics. For the film to really gain comedic mileage the way it should, Max should be an endearing clone of Lt. Frank Drebin, one who can't walk through a door without tearing the wall down. Instead, he's quicker than his series counterpart and a reasonably efficient spy who happens to be a little wet behind the ears. Carell's chemistry with Anne Hathaway (2006's "The Devil Wears Prada
"), whose decades-apart age difference is explained away by Agent 99 admitting to getting plastic surgery, is romantically nonexistent, but the two of them do banter well. Hathaway's wistful line about how her old face used to look like her mother's is as close to emotional truth as the picture gets.
"Get Smart" is a spy comedy that isn't clever enough to get many chuckles and isn't over-the-top enough to work as prime lampoonery. It's dull, forgettable and uninspired, and won't even work as nostalgia for fans of the series (their tones and character shades are notably different). With so many flashier options out in the cinematic marketplace, one ponders who will be sold enough on this enterprise to not only see it, but like the final result. Steve Carell's choice in material is already in need of an overhaul.