Get Smart is a simplistic spy guy tale of good vs. evil and smart vs. dumb that tries to capture the allure of the 60’s television show Get Smart. Sadly, this cinematic upgrade should have followed its titular advice when it came to the writing, the acting and the action.
After overcoming personal obstacles, Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) would give almost anything to be a field agent for Control, a covert American agency who battles the evil group KAOS. After his underwhelming talent gets him stuck as an analyst, he finally gets his break when Control is infiltrated and The Chief (Alan Arkin) gives him the bump to agent. He is assigned to be the partner of the beautiful and bad-ass Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). Together they take on Siegfried (Terence Stamp) and the rest of KAOS to try to stop them from handing out nuclear weapons like candy and killing exposed Control agents.
Character writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry did a terrible job with Maxwell Smart. They can’t decide if he is a misunderstood savant or a total idiot. He often wavers between what might be called slight mental retardation and exposing his hidden super spy talents. Steve Carell is sometimes charming and sometimes grating but Maxwell is so poorly written, it is a constant push-pull tug of war and is impossible for the audience to know if we are supposed to admire or loathe Maxwell (or Carell for that matter).
Agent 99’s character development isn’t smooth sailing either. Distant and pissed off one minute, she succumbs to her desires as easily as a drunk catholic school girl. There is no reason for the change, nothing really happens and yet we are supposed to believe Agent 99 just throws in the towel and changes in one second? Oh, please.
There are a few scenes though, particularly those pertaining to our current presidential situation, that earned a hearty chuckle. A few non-electoral scenes also went over well. How can you not laugh at “Holy Shit! Holy Shit! A sword fish almost went through my head!”
Even still, it’s obvious throughout the movie that director Peter Segal and writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember are desperately struggling to create moments of brilliance and silly splendor. Like a swimmer fighting a rip tide, their attempts only make Get Smart exhausting. The situational jokes are ones that a five year old boy might think up, and the visuals are often childish and shallow too.
Although it sounds it, Get Smart isn’t entirely horrific; it’s just average and unremarkable in every way. The acting is okay. The camera work is adequate. The direction is common. There is not much for the audience to take away. There is no succulence, no flavor, no depth. There is no take away for the audience – not even a bad one. I felt like I walked into the theater the same as I walked in, only two hours older.
My advice? Stay two hours younger and skip Get Smart. Watch it only when you’re doing your dishes and it runs on the local television station – this way you won’t feel like your time has been wasted.