Maxwell Smart is the kind of guy who can see the big picture. His mammoth 600+ page reports demonstrate his great attention to detail; the post-it notes he leaves for himself throughout his home show his dedication to living an orderly existence; and though he has little skill in social scenarios, his big heart gives him solid insight into where those around him are coming from. Max, as he is known to most, is also ambitious. In the last few years, he has gone from dramatically overweight fact checker to fit potential secret agent at supposedly defunct undercover spy agency, CONTROL. Yet still, he carries himself as though he were invisible. All of this makes Steve Carrell the perfect man to play the television icon in the first film incarnation of “Get Smart”. His humble likeability is always endearing and his dry delivery is as sharp as ever but even his dumbfounded obliviousness is not enough to save “Get Smart” from its trite pandering to the masses.
Essentially, “Get Smart” could have been a lot smarter. It also could have used a little more effort and originality. The irony of the Maxwell Smart character is that he really is a bright guy. He is both book smart and emotionally intelligent. He possesses attributes that give him the potential to be an amazing agent but his smarts rarely make it past his clumsy, awkward exterior, leaving the impression on most around him that he is basically useless. And though parts of this duality are present in Carrell’s performance, veteran television writing team, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, rely on some very simple conventions to guarantee laughs. We’ve got jokes about carb consumption and presidents who read to schoolchildren when there are more important matters to attend to. There are intimidating giants that are really sensitive souls and overweight women who show off the dance moves they never get to seeing as how no one ever asks them to dance. As if that weren’t enough fuel for formulaic fun, we’ve even got The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) walking into walls while flashing us his toothy greatness.
As simple as the whole story is, director Peter Segal puts so little effort into telling it that it’s often easy to forget that a story is actually happening. Pieced together, it goes a little something like CONTROL has been compromised and brand new agent, Max and his freshly reconstructed partner, Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), must infiltrate arch nemesis bad guy group, KAOS, as they are the only agents left who could do so without being recognized. KAOS intends to blow up the world if they don’t get an obscene amount of money and CONTROL seems to be the only group that believes they exist. So Max and 99 gallivant through Moscow to ensure the world remains safely intact. Something funny and exciting happens to them over here and then something more or less amusing happens to them over there. Still, though the action does not always tie together well enough to avoid disorientation, Carrell and Hathaway’s scenes are always welcome considering their quick and infectious chemistry. It is exciting to see Hathaway keep up with Carrell and the film moves so much faster when they’re on screen together compared with when Segal subjects us to a handful of supporting players (excluding Johnson and Alan Arkin, who is delightful as the chief) whose scenes stall the pace and kill the laughs.
When Carrell is awkward and uncomfortable, the results are hilarious. When the movie he’s in tries to mirror that same delicately achieved vibe, it is just sloppy and unwieldy. Sadly, he ends up in these movies far more often than he should. “Get Smart” comes together entirely on Carrell’s shoulders with no help whatsoever from the people who are supposed to be steering the whole thing. And while he keeps the laughs coming as hard as he can, even Steve can only do so much. In order for “Get Smart” to have filled out the spots Carrell couldn’t reach, it should have heeded the advice that was right there all along in the title itself.
Review by Joseph Bélanger