film & game reviews, the retro way.
Tom J. Astle
Based on Mel Brooks' classic TV series, Get Smart is a comedy from 2008 starring Steve Carell as Max Smart (aka Agent 86), a respected analyst for spy agency CONTROL. He is suddenly thrown into the field when an attack on the agency's headquarters reveals every field agent's identity.
Like the original show, this is essentially a James Bond spoof à la Pink Panther or Casino Royale (1967) except this film has a slightly more modern approach. Anne Hathaway co-stars as Agent 99, the experienced super-spy who has to hold Max's hand throughout various bumbling mishaps. The plot sees both agents travel to Russia in order to uncover who is behind the attack on CONTROL. They find that a nefarious agency, KAOS, led by the mysterious Siegfried (played by Terence Stamp), is to blame but also that he might have used a mole.
This kind of comedy has been done well before (see OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies) but it can often feel old hat or simply fall flat due to an unfunny script, the likes of The Avengers (1998) and Johnny English are two examples, as are the relatively recent Pink Panther remakes. Get Smart, however, manages to stay sharp and likeable enough that it presents, if certainly not the best spy spoof out there, a solid homage to the old series.
While the 60's show was pretty cartoonish and relied heavily on ridiculous gadgets and pratfalls, the movie is surprisingly sober in comparison, while, of course, still being quite silly. Turning Max into a complete joke would have been the obvious way to adapt Get Smart but the film, perhaps wisely, only presents him as a clumsy fool when it needs a bit of a levity. Forcing slapstick every 5 seconds, unless done as well as it was done in Airplane!, tends to pollute films that are just not funny enough to make that work so, by keeping its focus on the plot and the characters, Get Smart cleverly manages to avoid falling into that trap.
Unfortunately, this comes at the price of losing a few potentially easy laughs and the movie could have used a few more than it currently has. As charming as the cast (which also includes Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terry Crews and James Caan) is, the film itself is never quite as amusingly wacky as it should have been and it doesn't always capture the spirit of the show. It's an enjoyable little comedy but a bolder script or lead could have truly made it essential viewing.
As far as spy spoofs or even mainstream comedies go, you could do a lot, lot worse than Get Smart. This is a fun and slick, if somewhat unambitious, movie with a great cast and some genuinely funny sequences but it's unlikely you'll remember it long after watching it.