Director: Peter Segal
When the first Get Smart poster hit the multiplex, it looked like Nick at Nite by way of Neutrogena with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous glamour shot of Anne Hathaway given a perfect salon blowout coupled with flawlessly air-brushed skin all but drowning out her film’s costar and lead actor, Steve Carell. Needless to say, this image went off like a fanboy bat signal in cyberspace signaling panic in those who cherished the clever humor and inventive James Bond inspired 1960’s television spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and immediately cried foul, bracing themselves for the worst as they nervously anticipated every new detail of the big screen version of Smart. The poster and reaction reminded me of the quintessential cinematically captured moment of advertising letdown in Cameron Crowe’s great Almost Famous wherein lead singer Jason Lee discovers that his band-mate, the impossibly pretty “Golden God” Billy Crudup has been featured in the foreground of the tour t-shirts, relegating Lee-- much like Smart’s Steve Carell-- as decorative background or as Almost’s Lee quipped, to his position as "just one of the out of focus guys.”
Granted, it seemed like an odd marketing strategy indeed in hoping to lure in ticket buyers to a comedy with a built in Baby Boomer and Generation X audience with Generation Y sex appeal and seemed like it would've been as out of place as if the poster for Charlie’s Angels had only featured Bill Murray’s face or Will Ferrell had been the only one on the DVD box for Bewitched, yet honestly, after seeing what the filmmakers did with the update of the classic series Get Smart, they may have made the right choice, given the fact that in a quiet, unintentional way, the twenty-five year old Anne Hathaway manages to steal the entire movie from her forty-five year old veteran comedic costar. And while her character’s Agent 99 was always the loyal, brainy, loving woman tirelessly “standing by her Max" in the original series, given Carell’s terrific talent and excellent source material, it really shouldn’t have been this way.
As a stark contrast to the suave, highly unbelievable James Bond, part of the show’s charm and in fact-- no doubt its very inception-- was to have a bumbling, klutzy secret agent who can never manage to work his high tech equipment including the running gags of the cone-of-silence and shoe-phones supplied for him in his work within the American spy agency Control. Yet in the update, Maxwell Smart a.k.a. Agent 86 (Carell) has been inexcusably transformed into a formerly obese and still emotionally scarred highly valuable pencil pusher, who-- as his chief and fellow Little Miss Sunshine costar Alan Arkin explains-- is Control’s best analyst with raw human data, deciphering a counter-agent’s productivity based on the number of carbs they eat or if they’ve spent the past few nights in marital discord sleeping on the couch.
The updated version of Max is still as accident prone as ever but now his eccentricities are dismissed as minor negatives overshadowed by the ultimate positive that he’s a man so good at his job in crafting reports that the chief can’t bear to think of promoting him to field agent. As a Get Smart purist, this is unacceptable on so many levels, but more than that, it literally destroys the film’s main source of comedy. And when the cone-of- silence, shoe phone gags or his memorable “Would you believe?” lines are inserted, they feel like they’re puzzle pieces that have been forced into weird alignment by over-eager children at a birthday party waiting for cake or worse, like they've been tossing those of us who enjoyed the show a few retro bones to play fetch with on a Nick at Nite styled scavenger hunt whereby the end of the running time, our checklist is mostly blank and what's more, all the cake has been eaten.
I’m all for reinvention and re-imagination rather than forgoing creativity for stale reproduction, but by not offering us anything intriguing about Max, it’s easy to get distracted by the supporting players including a hilarious, under-used, tongue-in-cheek Dwayne Johnson as the ultra hot Agent 23 who nonetheless manages to walk into a wall when checking out a perky receptionist but especially, the pitch perfect Hathaway as the film’s saving grace of 99—the gifted field agent grudgingly assigned to working alongside Max after Control is attacked by KAOS madmen led by a Beethoven obsessed Terence Stamp.
Perhaps predicting the audience’s discomfort in the twenty year age difference between the stars, the screenwriters work out a plastic surgery excuse to explain that they’re chronologically closer than one would think. However, it’s a wasted reason as once the two are together, the chemistry just clicks into high energy flirtation and fascination where age is a forgotten number allowing each one a chance to step back and let the other one shine, although in the case of Smart, diplomatically it seems like it’s Hathaway who’s trying to underplay and make her partner funnier but try as he might, Carell just isn’t given the benefit of quality material, making 99 the one for whom we’re continually rooting.
As an escape from the over-abundance of superhero films slated for release this summer and a surprising lack of good family comedies, no doubt Get Smart will reach its targeted generations of built in fans plus kids and grandkids and as it stands on its own, it’s passable but not worthy of a recommendation for those who know and love the show. Although the best result would be if it inspired unfamiliar audience members to track down old episodes of the series. Therefore, even if it took a manipulative air-brushed, magazine quality poster to get them to do that, then kudos to the publicity department at Warner Brothers for helping people learn how hip it is to Get Smart.