"Get Smart" needed to be a lot smarter. And funnier. The movie stands as proof yet again that hit television series do not make for good movies. Everything from "Bewitched" to "The Avengers" proves the point. Even "Sex and the City," despite its box-office grosses, is no great shakes. It's a phenomenon passing itself off as a movie.
Hopes ran high for "Get Smart" because Steve Carell seems like perfect casting in the Don Adams role as bumbling CONTROL secret agent Maxwell Smart. And Carell isn't bad, exactly. Without aping Adams's delivery and mannerisms, he manages to create a character who both evokes the original and yet seems new. His Maxwell is more sympathetic than his predecessor – we are not encouraged to view him as an object of derision.
But because Maxwell is now a more conventional, if still klutzy, spy he also has less of a comic edge. And his partner in espionage, Anne Hathaway's Agent 99, is not the ego-boosting helpmate that Barbara Feldon was in the original show. She's an abrasive vamp with a passing resemblance to Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Sean Connery movie "Entrapment." ("Get Smart" even duplicates a slinky sequence from that film involving Zeta-Jones and a high-energy laser beam).
Gone is the dry wit that made the '60s show, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, such a cult favorite. The catchphrases are all here: "Would you believe?" and all the rest of them. But they're just meaningless prattle since most audiences for this film have never seen the TV show. Director Peter Segal and his writers made the tactical decision to load "Get Smart" with so many standard-issue action sequences that, to the untutored eye, it's almost indistinguishable from the muck of nonsatirical fare out there. If your aim is to create a wingding of a comedy, hedging your bets is never a good idea.
The nefarious espionage agency KAOS, headed up by Terence Stamp's Siegfried, is still giving CONTROL a hard time. But there's a cold-war pall hanging over this film, which is partly set in Moscow, that makes it seem not just antiquated but irrelevant. I'm not saying that Al Qaeda should have kidnapped Maxwell and spirited him to Afghanistan. It's just that the original "Get Smart" was a humorous response to the terror of the times in a way that the current movie never even attempts. Instead, we get the same old gags, like the scene where a fistfight breaks out in the Pentagon's war room. ("Dr. Strangelove" anybody?)
At least we have Alan Arkin playing the head of CONTROL. His drone and deadpan are a perfect complement to Carell's. But please, pretty please, let's not go for a sequel on this one, OK? Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language.)