I never saw the original TV series created by Mel Brooks, on which this is based, so I can't compare and contrast the show to this remake. But it's probably safe to say that the original TV show was better. Regardless, this movie is still an entertaining piece of filmmaking.
In numerous interviews, Steve Carrell, who takes on the role of Max Smart, has said that his intention was not to imitate or copy the late Don Adams' interpretation, but to do his own thing. I am somewhat familiar with how the TV series was done. I'm no fan or expert, but when I first saw the tease for this film over a year ago, I had thought Carrell was prefectly cast.
Even based on what little I know about the original TV series, and the few hit films of Steve Carrell, I felt he would be perfect in this role.
GET SMART is about Max Smart, an employee of a CIA-like organization known as CONTROL. Max is an analyst. He listens to the secret recordings of various targets under suspicion of being terrorists, or enemies of America, who may or may not work for the defunct terror group known as KAOS.
Back in the 1960s, in the wake of the Cold War, those KAOS enemies were the Soviets and their comrades. Even though this film takes place in present-day United States, the film still has Russians as the main villains. The filmmakers don't hold back from poking fun at the current presidential administration but miss the opportunity of making this a true Dr. Strangelove satire aimed at Muslim extremists, who are America's true enemy today.
At times, this film harkens elements of Kubrick's How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb mixed with a little Austin Powers. With Carrell as the anchor, I think the movie does find a happy medium between the two. It's not as ridiculous as either films, but what it loses in ridiculousness, it gains in action and adventure. Whereas those films were obvious spoofs, including the latter, which lampooned the James Bond movies, this film is not as much a spoof as it is an attempt to be James Bond but paved in a path of comedy.
When you think of Steve Carrell, one probably doesn't conjure images of James Bond, let alone any action star. One would probably conjure Clouseau instead. However, Carrell's Max Smart isn't as bumbling. He's actually a bit of a surprise. Carrell accomplishes some very convincing stunts, including fight scenes, which were fun to watch.
Again, Carrell is less James Bond and more Inspector Gadget, and it really is like watching The 40-Year-Old Virgin trying to be like The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson of WWE fame. I even forgot about Carrell's persona as the annoyingly offensive boss on the Americanized version of The Office. No. Carrell is instead earnest and dedicated, and dare I say a little cool, but the fact that it's him is simply hilarious.
But, it's Carrell's earnestness, his sincere dedication combined with his awkward charm and nerd-like humility, which shined so well in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), that seem to fit very well as the new Max Smart.
Max is a superb and detailed analyst who is very good at his desk job but secretly yearns to be a field agent, to be outside of CONTROL headquarters, and actually dealing with the bad guys, sneaking into hideouts, punching henchmen, and swinging from high places.
When a mission involving Russians and a nuclear device pops up, Max gets his chance as recently minted Agent 86. It comes on the heels of Agent 23, played suavely macho by Dwayne Johnson (The Scorpion King and The Game Plan), leaving the field, and Agent 99, played by Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada), needing a new partner.
Agent 99 doesn't want Max as her partner. She knows he has no field experience and has never worked outside headquarters. She feels he's too much of a rookie and would only hinder the mission. They go out together in the field anyway and what follows is a pretty even buddy cop formula.
The basic conflict comes when Agent 99's field experience, or street smarts, bumps heads with Max's encyclopedic knowledge, or book smarts. The obvious winner of the two contentious agents would seem to be Agent 99 who, unlike Max, doesn't use her weapons on herself.
Max leaves himself an endless supply of Post-it notes, and the first shot you see of him is the buttoned-up bookworm carrying a stack of them down a Washington street. Yet, despite the first-half of it, it isn't always Agent 99 having to rescue Max.
Hathaway plays her Agent 99 like one of those sleak convertibles the agents always seem to find themselves driving. She's slick and sexy. She's also a little cocky and very guarded about her past, which she reveals in brief moments. The rest of the time, she's a tough-as-nails, no nonsense chick, and Hathaway is good at handling those facets.
She's also good at playing the straight character to Carrell's silly yet serious antics, which I doubt will have anyone rolling in the aisles. Depending on the crowd, few will probably laugh out loud. That being said, this is still one of the best comedies I've seen this year. The filmmakers didn't focus that much on the gut-busting humor, but that doesn't take away from this film's snickering charm. However, I do think people will be more impressed with the comical action scenes.
The two in particular, which had my attention rapt, were the fight scene in the Russian mansion where we see some really impressive punches and kicks pulled by an unlikely Carrell, and the car chase scene in the end, which included Oscar-winner Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine and Rendition) piloting a plane low to the ground, and a surprising kiss between two of the film's stars.
For trivia's sake, I'll end on the note that this film also is the second movie ever to shoot at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, after Iron Man (2008).
Five Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for action violence and language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.