'Get Smart': Good Advice

Maxwell Smart, the clueless, bumbling secret agent created by Don Adams in the popular '60s TV series "Get Smart," has gotten a major I.Q. boost in the Steve Carell movie version. This is not a smart move. Brought up to date, and turned into an "action comedy" by writing team Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember and director Peter Segal, the hero of "Get Smart" is now a compulsively efficient analyst for the spy agency CONTROL who's eager to abandon his desk job and take to the field, just like the agency's dashing, macho superstar, Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock). Of course, when he gets his big chance to foil the crime syndicate KAOS's plans to detonate nuclear weapons—and also gets to work with the glamorous Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway)—he harpoons himself in the face with one of his Bond-ian gadgets and falls out of an airplane over Russia without a parachute, just as you'd expect. Except the next moment he morphs into an expert marksman with sharp instincts for foiling KAOS's evil schemes. You can't have it both ways and expect us to keep laughing. In this distressingly generic spy spoof, it's not Maxwell who's clueless, but the filmmakers.

Carell is fast becoming a national comic treasure, but 20 years from now, when he's getting lifetime achievement awards, there won't be many clips from this performance. His Smart never achieves deep comic traction. His bickering relationship with the lovely but out-of-her-element Hathaway, which of course blooms into a romance, generates an occasional mild chuckle, but no heat. I knew the movie was in trouble when Smart is mistaken for a terrorist on an airplane and gets tackled by a security agent—it's almost identical to a gag in "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay," except this time it isn't funny. Alan Arkin is his usual droll self as CONTROL's boss, but the script is toothless: the writers' idea of scathing satire is to have the president (James Caan) fall asleep during a concert. Director Segal—responsible for the dismal "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," the grating "Anger Management" and the misfired "50 First Dates"—is a comedy specialist lacking any apparent sense of humor. Making "Smart" smart is a classic example of missing the joke.