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Get Smart (2008)

  • Review: *** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Terry Crews, David Koechner, James Caan, Bill Murray, Patrick Warburton, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, Ken Davitian, David S. Lee, Dalip Singh, Geoff Pierson
  • Director: Peter Segal
  • Screenplay: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
  • Length: 110 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language.

When studios decide to adapt classic series from the small screen to the big screen, the translation is seldom as successful as the original, especially when the adaptation comes from a comedy series.

In the role that would forever define his career, Don Adams brought an oddball sense of humor to his role as secret agent Maxwell Smart on the short-lived Get Smart. The series, about a bumbling secret agent who was always missing something by "that much" and constantly being shown up by his female partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), was part of one of the brightest eras of television comedy ever. Along with shows like Gilligan's Island, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart took an interesting concept and soared with it.

Forty-three years later, long after the utter failures of adaptations The Flintstones and The Beverly Hillbillies, studio executives still see gold in bringing the small to the big screen. They've had far more success in the drama field where shows like The Fugitive and Mission: Impossible have found mainstream and critical success, but fewer still are the comedies that make successful transitions (Scooby Doo and The Brady Bunch are so far the only ones). The new Get Smart, positing the origin of secret agent Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), is a strange cross between success and failure.

Going into the film, there are certain realizations one should have. First, with the significant advances in technology, the capabilities of blending comedy and action have become more commonplace. Second, this isn't your father's Get Smart. Much of the quality of the original television series stemmed from Adams' comic timing. There are kernels of that style in Carell's performance, but they are born of high different times and thus the comparison is difficult. Carell is surprisingly effective, though a pale substitute.

Stepping into Barbara Feldon's high heels is Anne Hathaway, an actress who is quickly broadening her influence and talent. Although she doesn't possess the self-assured charm of Feldon, she acquits herself nicely as a romantic foil for Carell's buffoonery. Alan Arkin feels out of place as The Chief, working in far too much comedy for a role that was hardly such in the original series.

As for the rest of the cast? Dwayne Johnson is one-note idiocy as Agent 23, Terence Stamp spends far too much time scowling as K.A.O.S. leader Siegfried, and Nate Torrence and Masi Oka are hopelessly out of place as the "lovable" geeks used to make Max look better. The story could have left out the latter without any impact on the plot, but Johnson's presence merely accentuates the screenplay's biggest weaknesses.

Get Smart focuses far too much on trying to be a comedic James Bond. While the television series was intended to poke fun at the Bond films and similar espionage thrillers of the period, it never tried to become one. Even the pre-Bond Bond spoof Casino Royale relied less heavily on trappings of the genre to tell its story than this new incarnation of Get Smart.

In spite of the many misgivings I had about the plot and taking away the more annoying aspects of the film, Get Smart is a decent amount of fun. Once you adjust to the limited connection between the original series and the film, you'll be better able to appreciate what is being done. It may not be the perfect screwball spy movie, but it does enough right to be sufficiently entertaining.