Big-remakes of vintage TV shows are as played out as Rudy Giuliani's White House bid, so the prospects of enduring yet another seemed, uh, bleak. To borrow the phrase, "would you believe?" — the updated espionage farce Get Smart is in fact a pleasant way to waste a summer evening. It's certainly not suave, sophisticated entertainment, but, in the manner of its amiably bumbling hero the movie is cheerful and eager to please, if a bit clumsy.
In case you were born too late or never caught "Nick at Night": Steve Carell has adopted the role of Maxwell Smart, created by the late Don Adams (who whippersnappers know as the voice of Inspector Gadget), a somewhat dimwitted intelligence officer whose confidence exceeds his abilities. Max works for the hyper-secret agency CONTROL, forever at war with the global criminal empire of KAOS.
And trust me, we're doing you a favor by keeping the rest of the synopsis on a need-to-know basis.
In the spy game, agents are known as "assets" and this movie's strongest asset is its cast, led by the irrepressible Carell, who forges boldly ahead while the material lags behind, and who possesses a MacGyver-like knack for making something of nothing. Too often he's left on a limb by the script (from the geniuses behind Failure to Launch), which tends toward crotch kicks and Tom and Jerry-style violence for a literal punch line. Luckily, Carell has able support from the ageless Alan Arkin as "The Chief" and from the delightfully game Anne Hathaway as Max's foil Agent 99. She's slinky and snarky in all the right places and she generates heat with Carell, though the love story keeps gumming up the works at inopportune moments. Equally inopportune are those nasty, world-conquering baddies of KAOS, led by the always-campy menace of Terrence Stamp, who collects a paycheck with the best of them.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.