Get Smart plays spy games for laughs

Why Steve Carell shines as Agent 86.

click to enlarge SMARTY PANTS: Steve Carell plays the intrepid Agent 86 in Get Smart. - Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures
SMARTY PANTS: Steve Carell plays the intrepid Agent 86 in Get Smart.

True to the spirit of the 1960s TV series without parroting or postmodernizing it to death, the big-screen Get Smart gets by on goofy charm, a higher-than-average percentage of jokes that hit their target and a winning comedic performance by Steve Carell. Fans of the original show will likely come away smiling, although there's plenty of silliness to satisfy newbies as well.

Carell steps neatly into Don Adams' shoes (and inherits his trademark shoe phone) as Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, a likeable but somewhat delusional bumbler who's convinced he's the greatest secret agent since that Bond guy. 2008's Get Smart humanizes Smart by having Carell's character start out as an underappreciated intelligence analyst who's frustrated at being a middle-aged "invisible man," and who only gets to realize his dream of becoming an agent when all the other spies are conveniently compromised. Once Max gets his groove on, though, the movie doesn't look back, whisking around Russia and other exotic ports of call rooting out enemy agents and foiling assassination attempts in a plot that's short on logic but long on breezy energy.

Meanwhile the gags fly thick and fast, as the movie liberally spices up its action with some choice bits that allow Carell to shine, mostly slapstick-ish routines involving the comedian falling out of airplanes, imitating an idiot and repeatedly shooting himself in the face with a mini-harpoon. The rest of the cast is pretty solid as well, from Anne Hathaway (channeling a Shrimpton sister via smashing '60s fashions and foot-long lashes) to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's pitch-perfect parody of a slick super-spy to the elegantly villainous Terrence Stamp. Look close and you may even find Bill Murray in there, lurking within some innocuous clump of flotsam and jetsam.

Get Smart (PG-13) Stars Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Terry Crews, David Koechner and James Caan. Now playing at local theaters. 3.5 stars

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