"Get Smart" (PG-13)
Two and a half stars out of four
When it aired between 1965 and 1970, the "Get Smart" TV series went as far out on an artistic and commercial limb as any show had ever gone. During the height of the Cold War, it was a network comedy about the Cold War. It didn't overtly feature the U.S. vs. the Russians but instead the secret-agent Western good-guys (C.O.N.T.R.O.L.) vs. their Eastern Bloc counterpart bad guys (K.A.O.S.). Controlled Chaos. Nearly every character involved in the show was inept in some form and mostly everyone watching got the joke. Creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry got it right. The show was way ahead of its time.
If someone had tried to make this movie a decade ago, it wouldn't have worked. The Cold War was over and the Russians were becoming our allies. As that might not be the case anymore, the movie is given ample opportunity to shine and barely does so, but never for a lack of trying.
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is a detail-obsessed information gatherer for C.O.N.T.R.O.L. who wants desperately to be a field agent. He envies guys such as Agent 23 (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who are out there roaming the globe, packing heat and catching the enemy. Max is bursting at the seams trying to prove his own secret agent mettle. Unfortunately, Max's boss Chief (Alan Arkin) values his clerical skills too much to actually let him out of the office.
Eventually the time comes for a field assignment and Max, now Agent 86, is paired with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), his junior in age but his superior when it comes to intelligence (both literally and metaphorically). Not one to suffer fools gladly, 99 grows increasingly exasperated tending to the rookie 86 while on enemy Russian turf. As she glides, he stumbles. When she zigs, he zags. If she weren't so efficient, he'd be dead.
Amazingly, Adam Sandler's often-used director Peter Segal keeps all of the balls up in the air for the first two acts. The pace is crisp, the comedy is bone-dry and the sparingly used action does the job when called on to propel the story along. It is when 99 and 86 start getting romantically chummy does everything sort of bottom out. On the turn of a dime, the comedy all but dissipates with the chase scenes and explosions taking over in mock comic-book earnestness.
Carell was an ideal choice for 86. He embodies the same aloof, self-involved qualities of the original 86 (Don Adams) minus the nasal sanctimoniousness. Hathaway lacks the outward charm and approachable air of Barbara Feldon's TV version of 99, but more than makes up for it with her icy efficiency and previously unearthed sarcastic comic timing. With this and her remarkable supporting turn in "Brokeback Mountain," Hathaway has proved she's more than capable of going beyond the lightweight doormat she played in "The Devil Wears Prada" and her multiple throwaway teen fantasy princess roles.
It's not perfect and far from a classic, but "Get Smart" will keep you entertained and has just enough unfinished and dangling story lines to warrant a possible sequel. (Warner Bros.)