It’s been a good couple of years for comedy, with people like Judd Apatow taking the genre to new and dizzyingly raunchy heights. Yet it hasn’t been a particularly good time for big budget, formula comedies. You know, the kind cobbled together by a bunch of studio suits who don’t know the difference between comedy and action, and then watered down until its appeal is so broad it is literally impossible for anyone not to be interested in it. For the sake of this review let’s call it the Wild Hogs genre, though Wild Hogs is probably a perfect example of the genre at its worst. Even Adam Sandler, normally a staple of the wide appeal comedy has gotten edgy, with laughers about homosexuality and terrorism. Respectable funny people are making risky and challenging movies, leaving less talented folks like Martin Lawrence to make Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.
Along comes Get Smart: a standard, formulized, slick Hollywood comedy in the mold of Bruce Almighty or yes, Wild Hogs. Except this one’s not only straight down the middle mainstream, it’s also blissfully funny. Everyone can have a laugh, without feeling guilty about supporting the increasingly embarrassing career of a Tim Allen. It works because the original Get Smart worked, and the movie does a good job of translating the charm and wit of Don Adams’ classic television series to the screen. In particular, Carell is the perfect stand-in for Adams, as the well-intentioned, sometimes egotistical, usually in over his head, shoe phone lovin’ secret agent Maxwell Smart.
We meet Max as a lowly analyst working for a secret government agency called CONTROL. CONTROL’s mission is to fight KAOS, their evil counterparts in Russia. Max is a brilliant (if overly detailed) information analyst, but all his life he’s dreamed only of being a field agent, like CONTROL’s number one badass Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). He gets his chance when KAOS uncovers the identity of CONTROL’s agents, and starts knocking them off one by one. With no one else to do the job, Max gets promoted to field agent, and teamed up with agency bombshell Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).
Their partnership is predictably, hilarious. Carell and Hathaway have surprisingly great chemistry, with Anne playing straight man to Steve’s pompous yet utterly clueless antics. The movie works best when it’s focused on their partnership, and the first three-fourths of Get Smart is a laugh riot as Max and 99 skydive into Russia to infiltrate a fancy dress party. Unfortunately, it runs out of gas in the last quarter, as they return to America and the film becomes increasingly focused on the action elements obligatory to any spy genre film, even a funny one. The action isn’t particularly compelling or creative, and the wait becomes much too long in between jokes. Luckily most of the movie, especially early on, is dedicated almost entirely to letting Carell and Hathaway pull off wacky hijinks, of the sort that would have made the dearly departed Don Adams more than proud.
Less successful is some of the supporting cast, which suffers from an attempt by Warner Bros. to use their film as an advertisement for a DVD spin-off tie-in. Released the same week as the film will be a DVD starring the characters of Bruce and Lloyd, who appear in Get Smart as two of CONTROL’s tech-nerds. While Bruce and Lloyd work in small doses, the film sometimes feels as if it’s going out of its way to shoehorn them in where we really don’t need them, as if its acutely aware of that impending DVD release and the pressing need to pimp those supporting players if they’re going to sell copies of their solo movie. Luckily the rest of the supporting cast works much better. Terence Stamp is Siegfried, and while he may not have the comedic chops of the original Siegfried Bernie Kopell, he makes up for it by simply being over-the-top evil. Alan Arkin is perfect as The Chief, while an appearance late in the film by Patrick Wharburton as Hymie and a cameo early in the film by a knotty Bill Murray, really kill.
Get Smart is unquestionably a watered-down, formulaic Hollywood comedy, but it’s also a pretty good adaptation of something that was funny. While it can’t entirely escape the obvious mediocrity that comes with hilarity by numbers, Get Smart works well enough on a surface level to get a lot of laughs. What else do you want? It’s a comedy.