Get Smart comes to us as a big-screen adaptation of an old TV show, an exercise that has succeeded and failed in equal measure in the past. It plays well as both a throwback for anyone who watched the show or was around in the general era but also sits comfortably as a modern action/comedy flick, with the key element of a likable leading guy to carry it along. And although at its core it’s not got the most original of basic storylines, Get Smart is successful at delivering good solid laughs at just the right moments and surprisingly impressive action to go along with it.
A recently instated Agent 86, real name of Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), must battle a terrorist organization known as KAOS, with the far more competent Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) by his side.
Steve Carell is perfectly cast in the title role. The loveable klutz who’s always making mistakes is practically tailored to his style as a comedic actor. The Carell comedy trademarks are all present here from the quick-witted one-liners and backchat to the inevitable “shouting while in pain” routine. It’s an armoury of gags that might wear off in a few years time but for now it still works and it gets the laughs. His character here is one we instantly root for; whether for the look on his face or the silly shenanigans he gets up to, he is clearly a character we will stick with right till the end.
Supporting him is a slew of actors you will recognise from all over the place, people like Alan Arkin, putting in a particularly fine turn as the head of the good organization known as CONTROL, David Koechner, Terry Crews, The Rock (or Dwayne Johnson as he now wants to be known), James Caan, Bill Murray, and Masi Oka (who you may know from the TV show Heroes). It’s one of those movies where along with the main (pretty generic) storyline we have all of these side characters who throw in their comedic two cents every now and then. It’s a type of comedy that can easily go wrong as it can frequently seem like a ploy to cover up any plot holes, but fortunately Get Smart plays this element just right through a combination of fantastic casting and comedic timing on everyone’s part.
But we mustn’t forget the biggest supporting character Agent 99, played rather well by Anne Hathaway. Her character, and actually most of the characters come to think of it, gets laughs from our knowledge of this type of character in past spy movies. It plays off of the notion that this is generic stuff (and perhaps that might go some way to remedying the problem of a run-of-the-mill storyline as well) and there is a ton of sight gags that play to that idea and thus it sets itself apart from them. Hathaway makes for a good semi-leading lady, proving here that she can play a diversity of roles (this is a world apart from her turn in The Devil Wears Prada, for example), and I look forward to her cropping up in future projects.
The aforementioned generic plot is perhaps the film's biggest flaw; there just isn’t a whole lot there. It basically has purchased the “basic package” from the store to lay the ground for the comedy elements, something which is both a plus and a niggling annoyance. What there is of a storyline is not all that easy to discern, either; there’s something about an evil organization that are either selling or going to use nuclear weapons. It’s never really clear what the bigger picture is and instead we just have to take everything as it comes along.
For the most part everything that happens in Get Smart is very silly and over-the-top. But this isn’t a problem as it suits the film very well, and therefore some of the minor flaws throughout the story and action sequences as far as credibility goes can be easily forgiven. Every once in a while it’s good to remove your focus from grown-up or intelligent comedy and just have a blast with the silly stuff. And Get Smart is a great opportunity to do that.
As far as how funny the film actually is I have to say I laughed quite a bit throughout. There were a couple of belly laughs here and there but for the most part the laughs are consistently giggle-worthy. Most of these occasions either come from the silly and slapstick action or the one-liners delivered so brilliantly by Carell. For instance he will point out things about a certain incident that has just happened that audiences have been dying to say about previous, serious films that this is parodying. “That was ironic,” Max says after a car he was trying to commandeer gets crashed into by another. I can very much appreciate the observational comedy that Get Smart offers in spades.
A recurrent element of Get Smart that pleasantly surprised me was the action stuff. The physical confrontations between good and bad guys and the chase sequences that ensue are impressive not only for a comedy but for an action film, period. So you get a little added bang for the buck that you decided to spend on a comedy. There may not be an attempt to reinvent in the wheel in Get Smart, but for what it offers – consistent laughs, impressive action and fantastic actors all round – you could do a hell of a lot worse.