It may not be perfect, but it succeeds because it follows the golden rule of remakes: it respects the original material.
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is a top analyst for CONTROL, a secret government counter-intelligence group thought to have been disbanded after the cold war but is still in operation. The Chief (Alan Arkin) won’t promote Max to a full field agent because he’s too good at intelligence gathering, but his opportunity comes after an attack by the terrorist group KAOS reveals the identities of other covert operatives. Paired with the more-experienced Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), Max must uncover the sinister plot of KAOS while proving himself in the field, but trouble and mishap have a way of finding Maxwell Smart.
Updating the formula from the original 1960’s television show of the same name, Get Smart changes over from a bumbling Don Adams being rescued by the sympathetic Barbara Feldon to an inexperienced Steve Carell being rescued by a resolute Anne Hathaway. The change give the counter-intelligence premise a more realistic base to work with (aka less slapstick, more action pieces) while letting the trademark humor evolve from ridiculous but still plausible situations. Absurdity played straight is Carell’s bread and butter, and while Don Adams’ well-meaning but inept Maxwell Smart was enjoyable in the 1960’s, it’s interesting to watch a well-meaning but capable Maxwell Smart overcome both adversity and absurdity.
Maxwell Smart’s role has been perfectly re-tailored to Steve Carell’s strengths, more than making up for last summer’s Evan Almighty. Anne Hathaway, complete with explanation for why someone so young is such a top agent, handles the job, the partnership with Max, and the comedic timing like the pro she is; it would be hard to imagine anyone else more perfect for the part. From Alan Arkin as The Chief to Terence Stamp working for KAOS, the cast is simply amazing. Watch for Bill Murray as Agent 13, Dwayne Johnson as Agent 23, and a late-in-the-film appearance by Patrick Warburton as Hymie (for all you fans out there).
It would have been easy for the makers of Get Smart to do what Hollywood has already done too many times. In The Dukes of Hazzard, the main characters went from being the smartest to the dumbest, while Starsky & Hutch was a comedic vehicle that merely borrowed a name. Smart instead goes the Charlie’s Angels route and wisely decides to play up the action while adhering to the tenants of the source material rather than making a mockery of it, and the result can only be the launch of a franchise people will actually want to see future installments of. The storyline also takes a decidedly pro-techie, anti-jock position (including field agents frustratingly reduced to filling in for technical support), so, remember agents: respect your geeks and nerds so they can keep suppling you with good intel and cool gadgets, okay?
(a three skull recommendation out of four)