As I was watching Get Smart, I came to the delighted realization that the filmmakers weren't trying to do a spy spoof here, but rather a loving tribute to spy movies with a lot of comedy thrown in. This is the right approach, as the now-tired Austin Powers franchise has pretty much run the spy spoof idea into the ground. Director Peter Segal (a veteran of many past Adam Sandler comedies) tries and succeeds at doing something rare. Get Smart is silly enough to work as a comedy, but at the same time, contains some truly impressive action sequences that would be right at home in just about any summer blockbuster that had a slightly more serious mind.
I cannot claim to be an expert on the original 1960s TV series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, but I do have enough knowledge to know that this is a fitting and loving tribute that won't insult fans of the show, or alienate newcomers with countless in-jokes. The casting of Steve Carell as the well-meaning and often bungling secret agent, Maxwell Smart, was a great decision. Carell is able to capture the spirit of the performance of late actor, Don Adams, while not trying to ape Adams' distinctive voice and mannerisms. He fits comfortably into the role, and does not make Smart into an incompetent goof. He plays the part as a man with some obvious intelligence, but things don't often go the way he intends. It's a very likable comic performance, and Carell even gives the character a lot more personality than I expected walking into the film.
As is expected, the plot is mainly something to hang a lot of situations for Smart to be in over his head. He starts off as an analyst for CONTROL, a top secret government spy organization devoted to thwarting the terrorist designs of the evil organization KAOS. Smart dreams of being a field agent, and has even taken the test eight separate times, only to be turned down each time by the Chief (Alan Arkin), who thinks Smart belongs as an analyst. When KAOS launches a surprise attack on CONTROL headquarters, killing most of the field agents, the Chief has no choice but to promote Smart, and send him off on the latest mission. He is teamed up with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to travel to Russia and uncover a secret weapons factory where the evil organization is developing nuclear weapons to target America. With the aid of Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) back at the base, Smart and Agent 99 will attempt to stop head KAOS agent, Sigfried (Terrence Stamp), from carrying out his master plan of destruction.
Get Smart is breezy, frequently very funny, and never once slows down enough to become dull. This is one of those movies where you can tell that the cast is having a great time, and that joy carries through on the screen. The movie is a comedy, but the action scenes and stunt work on display are truly first rate. What's perhaps most impressive is that the movie finds a perfect way to blend the silliness and the spectacle, so that the two halves never seem out of place. The entire cast play the comedy as if they are smart people who can't believe what they've just done, or what is happening to them. This is a comedy that laughs with the characters, not at them. There's a scene where Maxwell and Agent 99 have to crash a lavish party being thrown by a suspected enemy agent, and Smart winds up dancing with an obese woman. A lesser movie would have mocked the woman, but here, the movie finds humor in the situation in other ways. The fact that the woman winds up with the final laugh, and that it's not at her expense, was very welcome.
Aside from the very strong lead from Carell, Anne Hathaway brings a certain sexy yet vulnerable charm to her role. She's a good match for him as a co-star, and they create a good "buddy" chemistry as the film goes on. They're slightly less successful when they're asked to bring romantic chemistry into the relationship, but it's not really their fault, since the film does seem to be trying to start a franchise, so I'm sure there's time for it to build in a sequel. Former pro-wrestler Dwayne Johnson drops his "the Rock" title for the first time, meaning he's finally serious about moving beyond his past and becoming a real actor. He manages to get some laughs here, and even has some charisma, leading me to believe he could be the rare wrestler to move onto an actual career in films. There are even some fun cameos, including James Caan as the President of the United States, and Bill Murray turns up as a fellow field agent who has the unfortunate task of having to pose as a tree while undercover. There are some more to look for, some for fans of the original show and some for fans of Saturday Night Live, but I'll leave those for you to discover yourself.
Get Smart is probably one of the stronger TV-to-film adaptations to come along in a while. It's not Earth-stopping entertainment, and it never pretends to be. It's merely a light and simple summer comedy that's a great way to kill an afternoon. We need those during the summer as much as we need the big blockbusters, so it's fortunate that this is a very good one. And despite the film's PG-13 rating, I can't imagine any parent being offended by letting their kid watch it. Get Smart is harmless and entertaining, and sometimes, that's all a movie needs to be.