The 1960s spy-parody TV show Get Smart was, contrary to its title, often very silly, and certainly not the most sophisticated bit of satire ever to hit the airwaves. But it was at least more concerned with cracking jokes at the expense of deadly serious TV and movie secret agents than with attempting to emulate them. The new big-screen adaptation recycles some of the show’s gimmicks and catch phrases, and has a handful of funny moments, but it suffers from unfortunate delusions of being an action movie that quickly overtake its potential as a comedy.
Carell takes over for the late Don Adams as the bumbling Maxwell Smart, an agent with covert intelligence group CONTROL. As the movie begins, he’s still just an analyst, but when nasty rivals KAOS attack the CONTROL office, and the identities of all the agency’s field operatives are compromised, Smart is finally sent into action, partnered with the more experienced Agent 99 (Hathaway). They do the standard bicker-and-then-grow-to-love-each-other thing, all while attempting to save the world from a generic, poorly realized plot to set off a series of nuclear bombs.
It’s not really all that important for a movie like this to have a coherent or original storyline—it’s actually probably better for the plot to be overly familiar, since parodies and satires rely on highlighting the absurdities of overused genre elements. But long stretches of Get Smart contain barely any jokes at all; instead the movie is full of elaborate action set pieces broken up only by the same occasional one-liners you’d find in a normal action movie. And when there aren’t any decent jokes to distract the audience, the plot holes and inconsistencies suddenly leap to the forefront.
Carell is a talented comedic performer, but, as in last year’s Evan Almighty, he’s overwhelmed by the big-budget spectacle, and his nice-guy delivery is no match for Adams’ legendary deadpan. Carell’s Smart isn’t even all that inept—mostly just nervous, especially around Agent 99—and becomes quite the action hero by the film’s end. Hathaway and supporting players Johnson (as a fellow CONTROL agent), Arkin (as the CONTROL chief) and Terence Stamp (as the villainous Siegfried) do their jobs but little more, and cameos from the likes of Bill Murray, Kevin Nealon and Patrick Warburton provide only meager laughs.
Director Segal, who’s mostly worked in the Adam Sandler milieu, actually helmed the third Naked Gun movie, so he presumably knows a little about filling a thin genre plot with lots of jokes. But Get Smart is no Top Secret! or Hot Shots!—unlike those dumb but often funny spy and action parodies, it’s too concerned with being taken seriously to be much fun.