Directed by: Peter Segal
Premise: An adaptation of the 1960s television show. Well meaning but awkward CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) pairs with the highly skilled but cynical Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to prevent a terrorist organization from launching a nuclear attack on the United States.
What Works: Get Smart is a very good adaptation, taking the premise and reinterpreting it for a contemporary audience. The film faces a significant problem in that there have been a lot of espionage spoofs featuring bumbling spies like Top Secret! Austin Powers, Undercover Brother, and Spy Hard. Get Smart sidesteps this predicament by giving Maxwell Smart a little more credit, making him more intelligent and more coordinated than he was in the television series. The film also plays the threat intelligently, especially in the final act, going for action sequences right out of a Jerry Bruckheimer film and then combining it with slapstick humor where appropriate. This makes the film less of a spoof and catapults it into a league with films like Ghostbusters or The Devil Wears Prada, comedies with a credible dramatic backbone. The casting is great; the actors include genuine thespians who are able to emote and do comedy and this brings a lot of credibility to the story. Steve Carell’s likeable but awkward sensibility fits perfectly with the new conception of Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway is terrific as Agent 99, making her alternately tough but also vulnerable. Together, Carell and Hathaway make a great team both as buddies in action and as a comedic odd couple. Other cast members include Alan Arkin as The Chief, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent 23, and Terrance Stamp as Siegfried, the leader of terrorist organization KAOS. Arkin and Johnson get some great lines and contribute to the comedy but one of the keys to the film is Stamp, who plays the role straight as though he were the villain of a James Bond film. This sells the seriousness of the threat amid all of the comedy and maintains the credibility of the film.
What Doesn’t: Viewers should be aware that this is a PG-13 film and in parts it abandons some of the family friendly tone of the television series. Get Smart is not raunchy like a Judd Apatow film and this slightly edgier material does help the film, but fans of the original series might find a few bits of dialogue jarring.
Bottom Line: Get Smart is a terrific piece of entertainment. It ought to satisfy fans of the television series but it will also reach new audiences as well. The film isn’t going to win anyone an Oscar but it’s all about having fun and for that purpose it’s a great picture.
Episode: #194 (June 22, 2008)