An aura of full circularity buzzes about the mostly hilarious and summery fine big-screen version of Get Smart, which will inherently mean different things to those who watched TV’s goofball secret agent spoof and those who didn’t. Back in the late ’60s, the small-screen Get Smart, with the loveably dopey Don Adams as the bumbling-but-ultimately-victorious-in-spite-of-himself Agent 86, took its place alongside Pink Panther as a ripe send-up of screen spy antics. But it also was a prime early example of the surreal satirical genius of co-creator Mel Brooks, and the precursor to a spate of arid-wit zaniness: Airplane, Naked Gun, and Scary Movie. Here in the early 21st century, that over-the-top satire genre has its own shelf in finer video stores, and the movie Get Smart feels both retro and right in its time.
Much remains true and respectful of the original, with some notable exceptions. Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 is mo’ gorgeous and more equipped with cool you-go-girlfriend ferocity than the original. Steve Carell, stretching his unreasonably confident bossman shtick from The Office into the stealthy spy business, is the ideal new Maxwell Smart. He’s a brilliant deadpan man with a doofus savvy and a way of winning both our pity and admiration. The Chief, played now by Alan Arkin, is the long-suffering straight man overseer, getting beaned and groaning through a fumbling display of a new, higher-tech “cone of silence.”
It’s still Control versus Kaos in the universe and in the world, according to Get Smart. Nuclear bomb threats are still the bread-and-butter of the genre, this time involving a scheme to off the U.S. president at L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, a handily cinema-genic site for a climactic showdown. Throughout, starting with the opening credits, Get Smart is well-armed with sight gags and surprise comedic left hooks. The energy does start to drag down as it lays into the “action” sequences, as if to show off its blockbuster budget and satisfy the action-lusty. But the laughs-per-hour rate, not to mention the pop cultural history reverberations, are more than enough to warrant an investigation.