**SPOILER WARNING – SPECIFIC SEQUENCES IN THE MOVIE ARE DISCUSSED BELOW**
Missed it by that much.
Don Adams' catch-phrase from the classic 1960's sitcom Get Smart aptly describes just how close the movie version comes to being the model of what a cinematic adaptation of a TV show should be.
A few missteps derail it at times, but Get Smart the movie still proves to be an entertaining action comedy, largely on the strength of an able cast, led by the incomparable Steve Carell.
Carell infuses Max with the goofy Everyman charm that worked so well for him in The 40 Year Old Virgin and <->Dan in Real Life.
He wisely steered clear of the unique ineptitude Don Adams did so well. Max here is more naïve and inexperienced than bumbling buffoon.
Somewhere, Don Adams is smiling…and maybe, just maybe, loving it.
Director Peter Segal, a fan of the show, has said he wanted to contemporize Get Smart and take us back to the beginning. So this movie is basically “Maxwell Smart: Year One.”
CONTROL is still a functioning top-secret government agency (the public thinks it was disbanded at the end of the Cold War). Agent 86 is an analyst who dreams of being a field agent, like the agency’s top dog, Agent 23 (The Wrestler Formerly Known as the Rock, Dwayne Johnson).
But Poor Max is so good at his desk job that the Chief (Alan Arkin) can’t afford to lose him to field work. Agent 86 thinks his career ambitions have been Deep-Sixed.
But after KAOS infiltrates CONTROL and exposes its field agents out in the field, Max is forced into action. He’s partnered up with the only CONTROL agent not compromised, Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), to help stop KAOS.
99 is as confident as Max is clueless, so they butt heads from the get-go. She can’t believe she’s forced to work with a rookie, who’s only exposure to deadly missions has come from reading a manual. During one hilarious exchange, the two are debating the details of their cover story of being a married couple, and wind up in an argument that only a husband and wife could have.
Carell and Hathaway work well together…but -- and here comes one of the film’s biggest drawbacks -- there is not a hint of the romantic chemistry the movie wants you to believe is there. That probably has to do with the 20-year age difference between the two leads!
The filmmakers apparently agreed, because the relationship evolves off-screen. We don’t even see the first time they ‘intermingle.’
Nothing against Hathaway, who holds her own comedy-wise with Carell and is quite nimble during the action scenes where they don’t use a stunt double, but was no actress more age-appropriate not available? Salma Hayek, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lucy Liu maybe?
Then there’s the action. Specifically, too much of it.
A skydiving scene early on where 86 and 99 are being pursued by KAOS hit man Dalip (the massive Dalip Singh) works well. But it’s followed by several fistfights, shootouts and a climactic plane/car chase through the streets of LA that includes a golf driving range, a swordfish (yes, a swordfish) and a freight train.
Director Segal wanted audiences to take the action seriously, but he goes overboard and it proves to be a distraction. When Steve Carell, one of the funniest actors working today, is your lead, why shortchange the laughs for needless pyrotechnics?
Thankfully, there are still lots of laughs. As KAOS villain Siegfried, Terence Stamp delivers his lines as dry as a Larry Tate martini. His sidekick Shtarker (Ken Davitian from Borat) is equally enjoyable.
As CONTROL’s chief, Arkin brings the same comical exasperation he showed as John Cusack’s shrink in Grosse Point Blank – especially in a scene with the President, played by James Caan in a throwaway role.
Heroes star Masi Oka and Nate Torrence steal nearly every scene as the agency’s Tech Geek Support. If there is a sequel, the gadget guys should lobby for more screen time. [editor's note: the duo will in fact be starring in a direct-to-DVD feature Get Smarter: Bruce & Lloyd Out of Control later this month.]
Johnson, meanwhile is his typically charismatic self as Agent 23. While he’s clearly playing third fiddle here, it’s a good career move to take a supporting part in a much better movie than he usually appears in. He also has the comedy chops, which won’t surprise anyone who remembers his classic wrestling promos.
Any film based on an old TV show is expected to give a nod to the original, and Get Smart does have an amusing cameo from an original castmember. There’s also a nice sampling of goofy gadgets too – like exploding dental floss and a nifty new Swiss Army knife that doubles as a harpoon gun and flame-thrower (What, you don’t have one of these?). And yes, the phone booth elevator and the legendary shoe phone make appearances.
Get Smart will bring a smile to fans of the original series and for those who never saw the reruns on Nick-at-Nite. It’s an entertaining, if slightly uneven 110 minutes. Let’s just hope that if there are more adventures for Agent 86, we get more inter-office laughs and a few less things going 'Boom!'