By Nina Garin Friday, June 27, 2008, 07:11 AM EDT
Purists who adored the old series featuring manic Don Adams as field agent Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as his partner, Agent 99, of the spy agency CONTROL, may take shots at this amusing picture, but who's going to listen, and who cares?
"Get Smart" takes inspiration from characters created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry 40 years ago during the Cold War and Vietnam era, then discovers its own unique identity and energy.
Only occasionally does bringing a dated TV sitcom to the big screen result in something fresh. The underrated "Bewitched" did it by poking show-business ego. More often, it's disastrous, like "The Honeymooners," a woeful take on the classic Jackie Gleason show.
Carell, meanwhile, who anchors TV's superb "The Office," has had an uneven transition to movies. When he plays softer, semi-serious roles like those in the ensembles "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Dan in Real Life," the results are delightful.
But when the big-budget projects rest on his shoulders - like the wasteful, $175 million "Evan Almighty" - it's calamitous.
Director Peter Segal, who has guided films with Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy and the late Chris Farley, never allows "Get Smart" or Carell to devolve into inanity. He takes the story of Smart's dreams of leaving behind a desk job to head out into the world as a field agent and creates a stimulating character. You care about the guy.
Amid the humor (puns fly this way and that), the film has real, James Bond-like excitement. Carell handles it with natural, everyman charm. Golden moment: his boxer versus briefs exchange with Hathaway.
He also does great pain takes reminiscent of TV pioneer Sid Caesar. When he hurts, you laugh. And his throwaway lines are priceless. Listen closely for the Ryan Seacrest ones.
Hathaway is striking as Agent 99, carving a flesh-and-blood human being beneath the physical stunts and fine fashions. Like she displayed in "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Brokeback Mountain," this is an imposing talent.
The bad guys at KAOS, the ominous crime syndicate out to destroy CONTROL, are led by British actor Terence Stamp and the round Ken Davitian, who wrestled nude with Sacha Baron Cohen in "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." They make evil glorious.
Only Dwayne Johnson (formerly The Rock) disappoints. As superstar Agent 23, his attempts at being humorous are all about smacks to the head. He's a concrete slab of an actor.
For those who know the TV show, it was engorged with gadgets from the shoe phone (quaint in this time of everyone-has-a-cell phone) to the Cone of Silence, which, in "Get Smart," becomes an animated, digitally enhanced, raucous set piece.
The new, futuristic weapons include explosive dental floss, cuff-link bombs and a Swiss Army knife that has flamethrower capability.
At the end of the credits, there are these words on a black backdrop: "For Don Adams." As his Maxwell Smart might've said after viewing this reverent cinematic bouquet tossed to his TV show, "Would you believe?"
"Get Smart"; Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes; 3 Stars; Rated PG-13.