Get Smart

Director    Peter Segal
Starring    Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Bill Murray
Release    20 JUN (US) 22 AUG (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


21st August 2008

Mel Brooks' long-running '60s TV spy-com gets a big-screen re-jig for a ADD-afflicted generation that's most likely unaware of its existence. Director Peter Segal (The Longest Yard, 50 First Dates) takes on the tricky task of adapting a TV show for a Cold War era into an action comedy aimed at a younger audience, but it's fair to say he's achieved it - the few fans the series has should be kept happy, while Steve Carell's in-built charm will win over skeptics.

Maxwell Smart (Carell), a valued office analyst for the covert intelligence agency CONTROL, has dreams of one day becoming a secret agent. Instead, he's become the punchline of the other agent's jokes, spends his time listening to inane chatter from terrorists discussing coffee and muffins, and hangs out with the Japanese guy from Heroes. But when the not-as-secret-as-they-thought headquarters of CONTROL are attacked by the terrorist organisation KAOS and the identities of its agents are compromised, Smart gets his opportunity to impress. The Chief (Alan Arkin) promotes him to field work, where he buddies up with the far more capable, less-tolerant and frankly better-looking Agent 99 (Hathaway). Together, they must stop Terrence Stamp's KAOS from nuclear-based world domination.

If you're familiar with the original, you'll know the premise is pretty basic stuff - CONTROL duke it out with KAOS on a weekly basis; comedy antics and low-rent action ensue. Segal has stayed true to this simple formula and salutes the movie's source material at every opportunity. From the telephone shoe to the theme tune, Segal pays respect to the original wherever possible - even Carell's performance contains more than a hint of the late Don Adams' most excellent bumbling.

Indeed, Carell is the driving force behind Get Smart and boasts the staying power that so many of his peers seem to lack. Carell is an actor first and a comedian second, and it's this reason why the on-screen chemistry between him and partner Hathaway feels so natural - even the semi-awkward flirtatious banter never gets boring. "Did you see anything while I was dancing?" asks a scantily-clad 99, mid-mission. "Just once, but I don't think you expected him to lift you that high," comes Smart's deadpan reply. There's plenty more where that came from.

Aside from the central pairing, Get Smart boasts a large roster of recognisable faces who all get their opportunity to shine. Bill Murray's lonesome tree agent and James Caan's President are both surprise highlights, but it's Dwayne 'never call me The Rock again or I'll lay the smackdown on your candy ass' Johnson who stands out, showing a growing maturity as an actor - there's more to him than just a raised eyebrow. Unfortunately, the villains of the piece let the side down. Terrence Stamp comes across as more Elliot Carver than Dr. Evil - someone should have told him this is a spy parody and not a Bond film. Meanwhile, professional fat guy Ken Davitian is just a cheap excuse for a laugh, although a fight involving an obese gentleman does usually stretch a smile across the face - hey, it worked for Borat.

Despite an all too serious turn by Stamp and his cronies, Peter Segal serves up a fast-paced popcorn spectacle with typically excellent performances from Carell and co. Crucially, Get Smart retains the essence of the TV show while keeping it relevant to a 21st century audience - a throwback it is not. With a well-written, gag-laden script and a plot far stronger than a mere comedy vehicle should allow, Get Smart is that rare blockbuster - one that gets the balance right between action and comedy and one in which the acting honours are shared. Rob

More:  Comedy
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