It might be a misconception, but I’ve always considered Get Smart (the series) as a serialized American version of James Bond. And just as the recent Bond films have touched on his beginning, so does Get Smart (the film) touch on the transition of Maxwell Smart from data analyst to Agent 86, man of mystery. While Steve Carell does a great job with the role a lot of the comedic bits come off corny.
In the world of Get Smart there are two secret agencies that are constantly at odds. First, there’s Chaos, a shadowy, up-to-no-good group led by the evil Siegfried (Terence Stamp). Thwarting their activities is the American agency Control, headed by The Chief (Alan Arkin) and his stable of operatives, including Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) and Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). Max is an Agent wannabe who gets his unlikely promotion when all of Control’s current Agents are identified and eliminated, effectively locking down any recognizable operatives until the threat can be eliminated. So it’s up to Maxwell Smart, dubbed Agent 86, and Agent 99, whose conveniently had facial reconstruction to stop Siegfried.
Get Smart works better when the film and the characters take themselves more seriously. The character of Maxwell Smart in the very capable hands of Steve Carell is great when he plays it straight, thinking he’s doing a great job when in reality he’s bungling. When he does get it right, there’s a joy in watching him succeed. However, a lot of the comedy is forced slapstick that isn’t very funny. At one point, Max’s hands are bound by zip-ties and he attempts to free himself by shooting projectiles from an object he holds in his mouth. Every time he misses, which are several too many, a projectile ends up striking him. You might chuckle the first time, but definitely not by the last. Other scenes are just awkward, like when Max convinces a bad guy from crushing him by discussing his marriage problems.
On a brighter note, the casting is superb. Dwayne Johnson drips with cool as the Alpha Male Super Agent. Alan Arkin is great as The Chief, who’s a pleasure to watch since he has a nice hands-on role. Anne Hathaway proves that she has just enough sass to pull off this straight-man role while being 100% committed and looking gorgeous to boot. It’s a shame Terence Stamp didn’t get more screentime, since his sardonic character is one of the highlights of the film.
All things considered, Get Smart is fun, but falls short of its potential, landing somewhere in between action, drama and comedy, but not committing to any category. It’s almost like the writers and/or director tried to make the film funny instead of relying on the natural humor that would arise from a character like Maxwell Smart trying to save the world.