I really struggle to love this film. I never watched the classic Don Adams television show that this movie is based on, so there is no nostalgia for me to enjoy. This just feels like Michael Scott playing a secret agent. Which even as I type this, sounds awesome. It is just ok.
Steve Carell plays Maxwell Smart, an analyst for secret good guy organisation, CONTROL. He is promoted to field agent after their headquarters is attacked by the villainous KAOS group and partnered up with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). Together they need to uncover who could have orchestrated the attack on their headquarters, while also being very wary of who to trust as it was likely an inside job. Maxwell is a competent analyst, but he is found to be somewhat inept his first time in the field. He relies a lot on Agent 99 and her no nonsense ways to get out of jams, while he picks up the skills necessary to be a decent spy and possibly save the world from the evil terrorist organisation, KAOS.
Carell is fun here, but he just feels too much like his Office character Michael Scott. There is an episode of the office where his employees find a script Michael wrote where the lead character is Michael Scarn, a secret agent. This film feels a lot like a film version of that script. Carell is fine, but he is not doing anything he doesn’t do weekly on his sitcom. I enjoyed Anne Hathaway as 99 though. I don’t understand why people dislike her, I have always found her to be lovely, and this film is no different. She is great as the no nonsense CONTROL agent who doesn’t want to babysit a rookie while he learns the ropes.
The supporting cast is good. Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin appear as CONTROL agents, and Terence Stamp is the main villain. They are good actors, but not given much to do. Most of the screen time focuses on Carell and Hathaway and their burgeoning relationship. I really wanted to like this film, but in the end, it just feels average. There wasn’t enough action to call it an action film, and it wasn’t laugh out loud funny either. It is somewhere in between, which feels like a wasted opportunity.
Like I said, I’ve never seen the beloved TV show, so I can’t compare this movie to that film. From what I’ve heard about the show, this is quite a good representation of it. The classic shoe phone appears and Maxwell is just as inept as he seemed when Don Adams played him.
Get Smart does not take good enough advantage of its great cast. Carell seems to be phoning it in a little bit, which is a shame, because he is usually solid.
Growing up I watched a lot of Nick at Nite. I mostly gravitated to female lead comedies– I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched were personal favorites– while also enjoying family-centric shows like The Brady Bunch and Happy Days. But every once in awhile something slightly more oddball would catch my attention, and Get Smart was definitely one of those shows.
Get Smart was never my favorite 60s TV series, but I was excited when I heard there would be a movie adaptation and that it would star Steve Carell. I can think of no one better to play Maxwell Smart. If I were rating Carell’s performance alone I’d say this was a great movie. He’s perfect as the bumbling spy, and a worthy successor to TV star Don Adams. But there’s just something missing here and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.
Maybe a spy comedy like Get Smart just isn’t as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. The television show was created as a James Bond spoof, taking the campy aspects of those early films and pushing the ridiculousness even further. (I was actually unaware that the show was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, but I can totally see it now.) However, James Bond has changed a lot since his big screen introduction. He’s grittier and more serious now, as is the entire spy genre. Without a proper reference, Get Smart feels silly and quaint. Austin Powers at least had the fortune of riding Pierce Brosnan’s coattails, but it’s impossible to make the leap from Maxwell Smart to Daniel Craig’s James Bond.
At best Get Smart is an OK comedy. I’d definitely watch it again, but it’s not going down as a classic comedy. The performances are good (besides Carell, the cast includes Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, and Dwayne Johnson), and there are some funny scenes. Plenty of references from the original series are thrown in for fans, but to paraphrase one of the show’s catchphrases, the overall effect misses it by that much.