Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway,
Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin
Rated: PG-13 for some rude humor,
action violence and language
Running time: 1:50
By Robert W. Butler
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
Apparently there are two actors named Steve Carell.
One appears in sharp-witted, humanistic "small" movies like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Dan in Real Life" and the occasional smart comedy blockbuster like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" — not to mention starring in "The Office," one of TV's edgiest comedies.
The other Steve Carell makes overinflated summer gobblers in which more attention is paid to the special effects than to the script — turkeys like "Evan Almighty" and now "Get Smart."
Carell would seem the perfect choice to reprise the role of '60s TV's Maxwell Smart, bumbling secret agent for a shadowy government agency known as CONTROL. Few actors so embody endearing ineptitude.
And every now and then you get a flash of what "Get Smart" might have been if Carell had cut loose — or if writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (working with the characters created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry) or director Peter Segal (a veteran of Adam Sandler films) had gotten off their duffs and actually broken a sweat at being clever
In fact, "Get Smart's" general lack of imagination is insulting.
As the film begins, Maxwell Smart is not an agent. Instead he's a deskbound analyst who dreams of getting into the exciting field work enjoyed by the preening and seemingly indestructible Agent 23 (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Mostly he bores his fellow CONTROL employees with his incredibly detailed but insufferably dry research into CHAOS, CONTROL's evil counterpart.
But when a security leak compromises the CONTROL staff , Max is sent into the fray. Teamed with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) _ who has just undergone extensive cosmetic surgery to change her looks — Max uncovers a CHAOS plot to detonate a nuke in America.
All this plays like a pale retread of a "Mission: Impossible" script. Which would be fine if "Get Smart" were actually funny.
Part of the problem is that Carell's Max isn't stupid. He's supposed to be a brilliant analyst, after all, so the script's attempts to make him seem a doofus ring false.
Carell has said he didn't want just to imitate Don Adams' original Maxwell Smart. Fair enough, but he hasn't come up with anything to compensate.
The verbal sparring between Max and 99 should be sexy fun, but it's wearisome. The car chases, explosions and shootouts could have come from any other contemporary spy flick ... they're slickly done and certainly not amusing. There's a big Russian pituitary case who seems to be the cousin of Jaws from the Roger Moore-era Bond films. How original.
Moreover, many of the elements that made the old TV show such a hoot lose their absurdity in the era of cell phones. The famous shoe phone from the TV show now occupies a glass case in CONTROL's in-house museum. A bit with the "cone of silence" sputters.
The closest the film gets to a classic spy gizmo is Max's Swiss army knife, which in addition to nail clipper and corkscrew sports a crossbow and flame thrower. There's a clever moment when Max accesses a CONTROL safe house by vanishing into the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial ... but it's almost ruined by a pointless cameo by Bill Murray as an agent assigned to be a tree.
Hathaway fares a bit better as 99; maybe it's because the character gets to dress up and role play like Jennifer Garner in TV's "Alias." Johnson is just OK as the confident, macho-oozing 23. As the Chief, Alan Arkin seems to think his is a straight role — understandably, given the deadly earnestness of the dialogue he's given.
Sometimes you just can't recapture the magic. Certainly not with a desultory effort like "Get Smart."
(c) 2008, The Kansas City Star.
Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.kansascity.com.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.