Everything is relative, as they say, which is why another big-screen version of a ’60s TV show, Get Smart, looks so good now. After all, it’s not Nicole Kidman and Will Farrell’s Bewitched or Tom Arnold’s McHale’s Navy. But like that Bewitched, at least to some degree, it does reinvent a franchise while placing it in current times.
The reinvention comes courtesy of Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) being smarter than Don Adams’ Max ever was, while still being reliably hapless in a comic way. Beyond that, this new Max is an underling agent, not one of CONTROL’s chief operatives. Also different is Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), who’s really the top-dog agent that Max aspires to be. In the original TV series, Barbara Feldon’s 99 was second banana to Max.
I’m not saying these tweaks don’t work, but they do seem to negate much of the zany comic mayhem that fueled the original. In its place we have an almost soulful Hathaway — one of my favorite actresses can’t help herself but deliver such emotion — and a rather winsome and sweet side to Carell as an earnest new agent who pines for respect — and Agent 99.
Indeed, this movie spin of Get Smart, while definitely a comedy, is less of a knee-slapper than a straight-ahead spy caper at times, even with sly comic turns by Alan Arkin and Dwayne Johnson as Max’s fellows in CONTROL. The plot involves bombs, Russia, double agents and lots of scenic silliness, with a threatened performance hall ending that somehow feels straight out of 1978 hit Foul Play.
Get Smart’s new two-disc set from Warner Bros. has ample extras, but its means of showcasing extra footage isn’t the best. To access about 20 more minutes of material, you basically have to watch the entire movie over again (provided you first went for the purity of the theatrical cut), and then cut away to alternate or extra footage when directed. How about grouping it all together, as on most DVDs? It works for those, and we’re not talking about special expanded editions of The Lord of the Rings here.
Still, the film can be a stitch, as in funny, and there are enough familiar bits — from the theme music to “Would you believe . . .?” — to please longtime fans. So shed your Cone of Silence, slip into your secret phone booth and get Get Smart. As lively lunacy, it’s agreeable, not overbearing, and like Carel’s Smart, its heart is in the right place.