There have been many a great cinematic adaptations of television shows. And there have been many a terrible ones, too. Where does Get Smart fall? On this side of great. Not quite The Fugitive, but miles ahead of *shudder* The Brady Bunch.
We’re introduced to Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), a mild-mannered and mostly naive analyst for CONTROL, a top-secret spy agency reportedly dismantled after the Cold War. He’s on the brink of becoming a full blown agent, but he’s just too good at his current job. But after the ruthless Siegfried (Terrance Stamp), leader of KAOS, bombs CONTROL headquarters and has their top agents assassinated, Smart gets promoted and gets assigned the task of bringing Siegfried to justice. All with the help of the beautiful, and more seasoned Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), the superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson), and the careful guidence of the Chief (Alan Arkin).
With any adaptation of a TV show, and I probably delved into this a bit with Sex and the City, there’s always the fans of the show that are hinging on whether or not it will be a faithful adaptation of the show, or if it will just be a goofy take-off. But what do you do when the show you’re adapting starred the hilarious Don Adams, and was created by the even more hilarious Mel Brooks? Well, it’s going to be goofy. But it’s never insulting to the source material.
Get Smart the movie keeps the same light spirit as the show, with it’s bizarre take on the spy genre. And I think the parody/satire has evolved with the genre. Where the spy genre had to reinvent itself after the fall of the Soviet Union (you can thank 24 and The Bourne Identity for the reinvention), Get Smart had to follow suit and become relevent again. And it does so in glorious fashion. It takes a cue from the Bourne page and hypes up the action, but doesn’t strip itself of the slapstick and pratfalls. Carell and Hathaway have significantly more fight scenes than Adams and Barbara Feldon would have ever done, but that doesn’t mean they are completely gadget-less. In fact, with the fantastic progress in actual techhnology that has been made in the past 43 years, the gadgets were even funnier and more outlandish than they were back then.
I have to do it because it’s an iconic role… compare Carell to Adams as Smart. This was a hard role to take on, only because Adams poured so many idiosynchracies into the character, that to do a straight impersonation would have been wrong, and an ultimate fail. But to not play it like Adams would have been an insult to the character and the show. So Carell had to, and did, find that balance of playing the character, and also making it his own. It never became a charicature of Maxwell Smart. And that speaks volumes on Carell’s talent as a comedian.
The same could, and should, be said about Hathaway taking on 99. Granted she had a bit more wiggle room with the character (though not in that dress, yowzah! Very nice!) than Carell did. But I think she did a fantastic job of portraying super-sexy yet super-deadly and the whole time super-sweet secret agent that has to carry Smart through his first real mission, and oddly doesn’t seem to really mind.
I give major props for all involved, they really did an amazing job of capturing and subsequently updating the 40 year old TV show. You will not have more fun at the theatres at all… I sure as hell haven’t.