June 19, 2008

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Get Smart (PG-13)
Steve Carell is an earnest and hardworking analyst for Control desperate to become an agent in Get Smart, a surprisingly funny adaptation of the 1960s TV show.

Maxwell Smart (Carell) is more or less Carellís same character from The 40-Year-Old Virgin but with a cooler job and no weird sexual hang-up (that we know of). Or, heís Michael Scott (The Office) but without the forced camaraderie. That is to say that heís a straight arrow who tries very hard but simply hasnít managed to succeed yet ó in this case, to get a promotion at the super-secret spy organization CONTROL from analyst to agent. But youíre too good as an analyst, says Maxís boss The Chief (Alan Arkin). Max might bore a meeting full of agents with his windy reports but he doesnít miss details, such as how a henchman for villain group KAOS might be having problems at home and how that might be affecting his work.

Max gets his shot, however, when a raid on CONTROL headquarters leaves many of the organizationís field agents, such as the buff superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson), with their identities exposed. Max becomes Agent 86 and is assigned a partner in Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). Agent 99, a woman with lots of field agent experience, doesnít have much confidence in her newbie partner who seems to be the most proficient at getting himself into trouble. Together they must travel to Russia to find bad guy number one, who leads them to bad guy number two, Siegfried (Terence Stamp), who works for KAOS and, along with his assistant Shtarker (Ken Davitian), is going to blow up the world (of course).

Yes, the eeeevil plot makes you remember why Austin Powers was funny the first time around, and the spy tactics and gadgetry seem as dated as the shoe phone that makes an appearance. But as goofy as it all is, as predictable and self-parodying as the movie can get, Get Smart is also funny. Gags like the Cone of Silence (meeting attendees turn it on so they canít be heard by the enemy but then they canít hear each other) and the dance sequence youíve probably seen in trailers (Max tries to show up Agent 99 by doing dips and flourishes with a portly partner) are Bugs Bunny cartoon silly but nonetheless made me laugh. Carell isnít stretching here and Johnson and Arkin seem to be simply rewearing characters theyíve tried on before but it all works well enough, comes together in a way that builds consistent comedy even if it isnít surprising.

My biggest criticism of Get Smart, the thing that acted like a splinter under the skin that I just couldnít ignore, is this: Carell is currently 45, Hathaway is currently 25. The movie includes a bit about how sheís actually much older than she looks, thanks to some dramatic cosmetic surgery she had to obscure her identity. Still, would it have killed the movie to look for a woman in her 30s? Hathaway isnít bad at her role but, unlike Carell, itís not like you couldnít imagine anyone else doing it and their romantic chemistry is fairly nonexistent. In the original show, only about 10 years separated the actors playing Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 ó something about the wider gulf in age here just made the toe-dips into romance a little squirmy.

These moments of poor fit plus a few other moments of weak dialogue or comedy that is just a little too obvious still arenít enough to justify avoiding the movie. While not exactly family fare (at least, not for the younger members of the family), it is a pleasantly broad movie, one that will appeal to a wide variety of senses of humor without alienating those who want something a little shaper. B

Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language. Directed by Peter Segal and written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (from characters by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks), Get Smart is an hour and 50 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, June 20. It is distributed by Warner Bros.