I have a vague recollection of watching Get Smart on television in the late 1980’s. It was one of those television shows channels here bought from the US and broadcast in the 6pm slot along with The A-Team, Night Rider and other safe for kids shows. I don’t remember much about the show other than the opening titles. And as for Maxwell Smart, Don Adams, well, people from my generation are more familiar with him for providing the voice of Inspector Gadget. So I went into the film adaptation of Get Smart with no investment to the television show what so ever.
Steve Carell plays Maxwell Smart, an analyst for the covert government operation, CONTROL. Max isn’t the brightest of agents, but he’s a superb analyst with a desire to become a field agent. After taking the field agent test for the eighth time, Max passes. But due to his skills as an analyst, he’s refused field agent status. However, CONTROL is infiltrated by the evil organisation, CHAOS, and almost all field agents are exposed. Max, and Agent 99 are the only two agents who still retain their secret status, so Max finally gets his chance to become the agent he’s always wanted to be. And thus, hilarity ensues.
Well, no so much hilarity, as mild amusement. Finding Get Smart funny depends on one vital factor. Whether or not you find Steve Carell funny. He’s the star of the show and as such, gets all the jokes. Literally, all of them. There are one or two jokes for the other characters in the film, but really, they’re just there to provide Carell with something to work off. And having said all this, you can really tell Carell had a hand in the writing to some degree. The comedy here is quite similar in ways to Carell’s work on The Office. Sure, there’s no reality TV element, but the general feel off the film is you’re watching Carell in Michael Scott mode.
It’s not that Carell can’t do anything other than Michael Scott. Carell was great in The 40 Year Old Virgin. And he showed that he can act in Little Miss Sunshine. But here, he’s just another version of Michael Scott. Which, for me, isn’t bad. The Office is a show which has ditched it’s ties to the original and classic British version and has found it’s own feet, largely down to the work of Carell. And when he’s funny in Get Smart, Carell is very funny. However, it’s a strange thing. While Maxwell Smart is somewhat dumb, he’s also quite intelligent, and it’s this which causes things to unravel somewhat. I don’t know if it’s because we’re predisposed as an audience as to comedy archetypes, or if it’s down to poor writing, but I just found myself unsure of how I was supposed to feel about Max. Something about his character didn’t quite fit.
The support cast don’t really get up to much. Alan Arkin, Carell’s co-star from Little Miss Sunshine get’s most of the support comedy, but it’s not exactly hilarious. Dwayne Johnson fills the role of the super-agent without breaking much of a sweat, but he also feels underused as comedy support. The Rock’s a big guy, and has that whole tough thing going on, and something could have been done with that, but alas no. Even General Zod himself, Terence Stamp is reduced to fleeting scenes. So much more could have been done with him. In fact, the best support part came from the criminally underused Patrick Warburton who turns up for a tiny cameo towards the end of the film. The man’s voice alone is hilarious. As for Anne Hathaway. She’s got nothing to do but look good and occasionally throw a punch. Hell, they even manage to provide Bill Murray with a cameo which isn't funny. HOW DO YOU MAKE BILL MURRAY UNFUNNY?!
Get Smart isn’t terrible. It’s got it’s moments. But these moments are reserved for Carell and there in lies the rub. If you like Carell, you will find plenty of laughs. If you don’t, avoid the film. You’ll find nothing here to keep you entertained.