Maybe it’s due to the fact that I watched it immediately after The Love Guru, but I can’t shake the feeling that I like Get Smart—more than I should. After all, only a few of the jokes really work. And the film straddles the line between generic spy spoof and generic summer-action flick, while trading on material that hasn’t been fresh for more than four decades. But while it does nothing new and is ultimately inconsequential, Get Smart still—somehow—manages to be likable, entertaining and occasionally charming.
However, those looking for a straight film adaptation of the television show might find the film a bit lacking. Sure there are references to the show—both the red Sunbeam convertible and the trademark shoe phone get some use—but the movie is more of a stand-alone entity, especially as concerns the big-budget action sequences that take place. For better or for worse, it’s Get Smart with a special-effects budget, meaning much of the quaintness of the original program is lost, something which might perturb many purists. Then again, if it didn’t, they wouldn’t be purists.
But on its own, as a popcorn flick, the movie somehow works. Most of the credit should go to the cast. Sure, Steve Carell occasionally falls into the noisier aspects of his persona, but when he does allow himself some restraint, he shows the same kind of deadpan likability he had in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Add to this an assured performance by Anne Hathaway, the always dependable Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp being, well, also dependable, and a surprisingly funny role by James Caan as a bonus—and the film is kept afloat by the cast alone.
The plot is general spy-yarn stuff, with Carell playing Maxwell Smart, a pencil pusher for secret government agency CONTROL, who has dreams of one day becoming a field agent. It’s not until CONTROL headquarters is attacked by the terrorist organization KAOS that Smart is partnered up with Agent 99 (Hathaway) and forced into the field in an attempt to stop KAOS from processing some black-market plutonium. From here, it’s a collection of run-of-the-mill espionage and action sequences, with all the spy gadgets one expects from this type of movie and the humor being predicated on the occasional bumbling of Smart.
What’s surprising is that a number of the gags actually tie into the plot. For instance, Smart’s struggle with his weight is more than just a few flashbacks to Carell in a fat suit and instead becomes a part of his character. This isn’t deep characterization by any means, but when you compare it to, say, The Love Guru, where the main character’s only motivation is a need to get on Oprah, it’s a bit refreshing.
Is Get Smart going to set the world on fire? No, not at all. It’s 110 minutes of perfectly fine summer entertainment, the exact thing it set out to be. Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language.