'Get Smart' Goes Hollywood, with Mixed Results

Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in 'Get Smart' i i

Dressed to kill: Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) and Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) suit up for the fight against KAOS. Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros.
Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in 'Get Smart'

Dressed to kill: Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) and Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) suit up for the fight against KAOS.

Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros.

Get Smart

  • Director: Peter Segal
  • Genre: Action, Comedy
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

Rated PG-13: Dirty jokes, action sequences, nonsensical hijinks.

Alan Arkin behind a desk i i

Straight-man edge: Alan Arkin's Chief plays foil to Carell's fool — and shows a pro's instinct for timing. Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros.
Alan Arkin behind a desk

Straight-man edge: Alan Arkin's Chief plays foil to Carell's fool — and shows a pro's instinct for timing.

Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros.
Dwayne Johnson and Steve Carell in suits i i

Smooth and smoother: Dwayne Johnson's Agent 23 is the suave superagent Carell's Max wants to be. Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros.
Dwayne Johnson and Steve Carell in suits

Smooth and smoother: Dwayne Johnson's Agent 23 is the suave superagent Carell's Max wants to be.

Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros.

The movie of Get Smart is a hoot, with at least a two-to-one ratio of good gags to clunkers — but it's not, for better or worse, Get Smart.

The '60s sitcom conceived by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry made hay of ridiculous, malfunctioning secret-agent gadgets, but at heart it wasn't a James Bond parody; it was an American espionage reworking of The Pink Panther.

Like Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau, Don Adams' Agent Maxwell Smart was a boob who fancied himself a suave supersleuth — he thought he was 007. His lack of self-awareness could pay dividends, though: With the aid of his more competent female partner, Agent 99, he triumphed over foes who were fatally rational — too easily flummoxed by his idiocy.

Director Peter Segal's star-packed, big-budget update is bursting with gadget shtick and all the treasured catchphrases: "Would you believe ... ?" "Missed it by that much."

But the Max of Steve Carell just isn't the fool we knew and loved. Carell is delightful; he usually is. But he's delightful as Steve Carell, a mild-mannered dweeb with occasional flights of grandiosity and an abundance of self-consciousness. He's plucky, but easily rattled.

He begins as a deskbound nerd at his spy agency, CONTROL — a painstaking analyst who dreams of going into the field, but looks puny and hapless beside the cool, muscular Agent 23, played by Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock.

Now, it's a valid question whether we'd want another obtuse, Don Adams-like Agent 86: Get Smart the sitcom was often a one-joke affair and got tedious fast, whereas Carell's starry-eyed geek has room for nuance, for emotional growth. You can make a case for both Maxes. Me, I kind of miss the boob.

Agent 99 has been altered more shrewdly. The problem with the sitcom's Barbara Feldon was that even when she saved Max's life, her mushy subtext, very much of its day, was to preserve his delusions of potency.

Here, she's a bratty showoff — a perfectly cast Anne Hathaway, dressed in Chanel to the 99s. Like most young actresses, Hathaway has dropped too many pounds; in a couple of shots her cheeks have sunk so deep they can barely contain her big teeth. But the sleekness, the hard Chanel lines, the blacks and bright greens against that ivory skin — after this and The Devil Wears Prada, she must have fashion designers camping outside her co-op.

The plot centers on an attack on CONTROL headquarters. Max is one of the few employees whose identity has not been compromised, which leads to a promotion. As the newly dubbed Agent 86, he tries to deceive KAOS kingpin Siegfried, played by an icy Terence Stamp, and his sidekick Shtarker — Ken Davitian, who memorably nude-wrestled Sasha Baron Cohen in the Borat movie and who thankfully keeps his clothes on here.

Stamp, unfortunately, doesn't get a lot to do: It's good that Siegfried is no longer an ethnic joke, as in the TV series, but now he's not much of anything.

The thing is, though, there are so many elements in the mix that Get Smart never bogs down. As the Chief, the straight man for Max, Alan Arkin shows off some of the best timing in movies. There are more fisticuffs, chases, and shootouts than in many genuine action movies.

The best scene, though, makes the case for elegance, even in slapstick comedy. It's a bit at a hoity-toity Russian black-tie affair where 99, looking like a couture Mata Hari, waltzes off with the baddie host while jealous Max hits the dance floor with an obese young woman, played by Lindsay Hollister.

It turns out that Hollister is enchantingly light on her feet, and Max goes with her — even lifts her, with supreme ease.

The old Maxwell Smart wouldn't have had the largeness of spirit for that dance. At his best, Carell makes nebbishy simplicity a state of grace.

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