TV series movie reboots have a bad track record, but I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more of them. Get Smart with Steve Carell in Don Adams’s shoe-phones is a solid success, and I imagine the sequel is already being planned by a bevy of producers with cigarette holders and monocles a-twitch at the box office receipts. It’s not perfect, but it’s very funny, gives a few nods to the old show without wallowing in fan service like the new Hulk movie, and there’s great chemistry between the cast.
The movie begins in familiar Carell territory- he’s an analyst at Control, a shadowy government organization in rivalry with the C.I.A. He wants to leave the desk and hit the field with agents like the legendary Agent 23, played with great humor by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But he’s indispensable at his job of decoding chatter, and has to sit back at HQ with gadget geeks like Bruce (“Heroes” Hiro, Masi Oka) and Lloyd. (Nate Torrene). The Chief who’s holding him back is Alan Arkin, who plays the role with relish, slipping into his familiar manic mannerisms- it made me wonder if he joined Peter Falk after The In-Laws, another fine spy spoof with a very similar tone.
After Control is hit by KAOS, he meets Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). She’s sharp, smart and sexy, the paragon of female super-spy, and they have good chemistry together. They’re off to Russia to track down KAOS’s leader Siegfried, played Terence Stamp. He has a little less fun here than he did with General Zod, but it’s good to see him as a villain again. His henchmen include Borat’s pal Ken Davitian, and The Great Khali from the WWF, “with a face like an Easter Island statue.”
The movie has more action sequences than any of the TV show episodes ever did, and even The Nude Bomb tried for. Sometimes they overwhelm the gags, but most of the time it stays rooted in comedy territory and made me laugh. The dialogue is snappy and makes use of Carell’s deadpan brilliance. Terry Crews and David Koechner play a pair of agents who serve as the Seniors vs. the freshman spies, and their comeuppances are always entertaining.
The gadgets are updated from the show, but usually don’t work or make sense, like the classic shoe phone. We get some throwbacks to the series like the cone of silence, and new stuff like a Swiss Army knife with a harpoon crossbow that is as useful as you could imagine, and Max’s attempts to use it get progressively funnier.
The third act runs to the predictable and has more action than laughs, as the gags run out of steam. It still works, but everyone including the enemy is much more competent than they ever were on the show. The movie does take a few pokes at the inability of our intelligence agencies to communicate with each other, and even takes a few jabs at the President, amusingly played by James Caan. But the payoff is one of an action movie, not a comedy.
I liked the few nods they made to the original series- There’s a Control Museum in the lobby, and the Sunbeam Tiger from the show’s opening, along with a suit that is apparently supposed to be the old Max’s. It’s never said, but Carell gives it a respectful nod that makes you wonder if they were going to mention that his uncle Max the legend got him the job. There are a few cute cameos, especially Agent 13 the master of disguise, but no Barbara Feldon. Too bad, she was the original 99 and even a background appearance would have been nice.
Originally there was fan outrage when Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the show creators, were left out of working on the movie. They’re listed as consultants here, and who knows what (if any) input they had. The movie does fine with or without them, though it may not have their original flair. The laughs hit more than they miss to great degree, and there’s an infectious energy with the cast that makes the movie very enjoyable. All the characters hit the right note, and you’ll be able to see a straight to DVD movie with Bruce and Lloyd on July first. I give this one 3 Cones of Silence out of 4. It’s got a lot of laughs and has a cast of characters I’d like to see more of.