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Get Smart (12A)

Nicola Mostyn on a satisfying, summery spy film

Published on August 27th 2008.


Get Smart (12A)

The spy game isn’t all glamour girls and guns, as Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) can testify. He’s an analyst for top secret government agency CONTROL which means that while muscle-bound super macho types like Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock) get to battle with the unit’s dastardly Russian counterpart, KAOS, he’s writing dry reports about potential plots and listening to incriminating chatter about full fat muffins.

While some laughs are derived from his catastrophes, they also come from other, sillier sources, such as his fellow agents’ frustrations at being suddenly office-bound, or the antics of CONTROL’s techie geeks or, rather randomly, Bill Murray in a tree.

But when a mole in CONTROL compromises all the current agents' identities except the cool, beautiful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) Smart gets a chance to prove himself as he’s sent into the field as 99’s partner – but will Agent 86 save the day, get the girl and work out how to fire his mini harpoon without stabbing himself in the neck?

This is an adaptation of the 1960s TV series which was written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and starred Don Adams as the well-meaning agent. And while reports suggest that this is a loving interpretation of the show, it is also successful as a stand-alone film to those who – like this reviewer – don’t remember the original.

Directed by Peter Segal (50 First Dates) it seems likely, at first, that Get Smart might go down the Mr Bean route *shudder*. But, fear not – all worries of constant bumbling and tiresome ineptitude are soon eased. While he is reminiscent, at times, of Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, Max turns out to be as often competent as he is cack-handed. And while some laughs are derived from his catastrophes, they also come from other, sillier sources, such as his fellow agents’ frustrations at being suddenly office-bound, or the antics of CONTROL’s techie geeks or, rather randomly, Bill Murray in a tree.

Of course, having Steve Carell in the lead role is always going to be a good thing and, as usual, he equips himself beautifully, doing great things with ho-hum lines and working comedy magic with the really funny stuff. He has great chemistry with CONTROL's chief (Alan Arkin) who reminds me of a bulldog. The Rock reminds me of a rock, and not in a good way.

For her part, Hathaway is surprisingly ballsy as an action girl, giving the role depth as well as punch, although, when it comes to chemistry, she and Carell don’t exactly gel: great as partners rubbing along together, and incredibly likeable individually, they entirely fail to convince as a romantic couple.

Smart’s appeal is that he’s an everyman – neither super cool nor a super fool. The film, too, succeeds because it operates in a middle ground, refraining from going down the spoof route but not taking itself seriously either. In fact the humour, rather than being of a specific tone, is physical, verbal, smart and silly, which spells plenty and varied laughs. Though it does also mean that there’s rather a lot going on in the film, not all of which can be explored to its full potential.

The stunts are great (with one especially impressive mid-air flight scene) and while the film is over-long, it remains consistently funny until its not exactly unpredictable denouement.

So it’s a decent effort as enjoyable, feel-good summer movies go, though perhaps the most outstanding thing about Get Smart is that it has pulled off a faithful, crowd-pleasing adaptation of a well loved TV programme which can be enjoyed by new fans. It's a trick which, given previous attempts (Starsky and Hutch, Lost in Space, Wild Wild West, the list goes on…) you’d be forgiven for thinking was a mission impossible.

7/10

Get Smart is on general release now.

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