The hilarious 1960s TV spy spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry is updated by director Peter Segal (Anger Management) for the post-9/11 era. Alas, the new version is bigger but not better. There are a few laughs, but nothing memorable, no biting satire and no clever wit. Most disappointing, there’s no real chemistry between the bumbling Maxwell Smart and beautiful Agent 99. A fizzle where there be sizzle.
Don Adams as the original Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, was cluelessly stupid. In the movie, Smart, as played by “Mr. Nice Guy” Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine), gets a major upgrade in brain power, but the humor is dumb-downed, as if the filmmakers thought today’s audience isn’t capable of understanding satire. No, there are no potty jokes, but there is a long sequence of international eavesdropping in the men’s room. The first piss in the urinal is un-funny and it doesn’t get any more amusing five pisses later.
Agent 99, created by Barbara Feldon, has a righteous new characterization from the effervescent Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada). But she’s left to shine all by herself because Steve Carell fails to exude even one ounce of sex appeal and it’s not just because he’s 20 years older than she is and wimpy. For some reason, the writers make Maxwell Smart start out on the wrong foot. Early in their wisecracking, Smart trots out snide dialogue that denigrates Agent 99’s femininity. Instead of kicking him you know where like any self-respecting super-agent, she just rolls her eyes and demurely ignores him. His crudeness ruins any warm fuzzies the female audience might develop for Smart and I’m sure Agent 99 has the same opinion. At least Dwayne, The Rock” Johnson (The Game Plan) as Agent 23 provides some eye candy for us gals. Johnson is so immune to taking himself seriously he’s become infectiously likeable, no matter how awful an actor he is.
The story is grand mockery of the Evil Axis. KAOS in the person of Siegfried (Terence Stamp, never on screen long enough) continues its nefarious plans for world domination–this time it intends to set off an atomic bomb while the American president (James Caan, also underused) is attending a performance in the fabulous Disney Hall concert hall in downtown Los Angeles. A 7’2″ tall East Indian terrorist named Dalip (Dalip “The Great Kali” Singh, TVs WWF Smackdown) wreaks havoc everywhere on land and sky and he’s so interesting, you hope he’s not going to get offed by the good guys. Channeling Deeprak Chopra, Maxwell Smart tries to neutralize the big bad guy with unconditional love–a hilarious concept that should have been given more screen time. Like every other scene, it goes by so fast that by the time you realize how clever a sketch might be, you’ve been speeded up to the next one.
At 75 years of age, Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) as The Chief, the hapless head of Control, has more fun than anybody else in the movie, injecting every moment with his manic energy. The scene in which The Chief is flying a plane and Agents 23, 86 and 99 are battling in an SUV and an oncoming train is as good as any action movie finale. A lot of yucks come from two secondary players, nerdy analysts Bruce (Masi Oka, TV’s Heroes) and Lloyd (Nate Torrence, TV’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). In a cameo that might just be worth the price of admission, Bill Murray appears as a sad-sack agent assigned to a tree trunk.
The peak experience in Get Smart has nothing to do with big budget action or fractured espionage. It’s a hilarious send-up of Saturday Night Fever. A hunky Chechnya terrorist in an ill-fitting white jacket whirls Agent 99 around the dance floor, revealing a delectable stretch of her long leg. Fuming with jealousy, the compulsively competitive Maxwell Smart grabs an enormous fleshy belle, about twice his weight and several times his girth (Lindsay Hollister–a gal to watch). He twirls her and dips her and raises her high like an Olympic torch and she loves every pound-swirling minute–it’s the most original scene in the movie and the funniest.