The main problem with Get Smart is that the actors are too good for the sluggish script and the recycled gags they've been given by screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, former TV hacks best known for the 2006 meet-cute dud Failure to Launch. And they're lost in director Peter Segal's high-gloss update of the `60s sitcom, yet another Hollywood flick with the sledgehammer subtlety of a Fox cop show.
So all credit to the casting director: Steve Carell shares the same hangdog facial expressions and everyman body language as Don Adams' bumbling TV secret agent Maxwell Smart. Alan Arkin has been playing gruff-but-lovable leaders for so long that his turn as the head of spy agency C.O.N.T.R.O.L. would smack of self-cannibalism if he didn't appear to be having so much fun. And in Be Cool, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had no problem parodying his own Herculean physique, making him perfect for Get Smart's All-American Boy Scout, Agent 23. Yet none of them can keep this movie--which doesn't know whether it wants to be a light action flick, soft satire, or low-rent physical comedy--from being another second-rate remake.
Carell's Smart is a sweet, efficient, but unmanly analyst who dreams of being called up to the big leagues: a field agent taking on the evil forces of nondenominational terrorist organization K.A.O.S. He gets his wish when an attack neutralizes C.O.N.T.R.O.L.'s agents, and he's paired with the big-eyed, blunt-tongued Agent 99 (a truly terrible Anne Hathaway) to stop a scheme to provide the Axis of Evil with nuclear weapons. That's not quite enough plot to fill two hours, but thankfully the writers include plenty of fat jokes, poop jokes, terrorist jokes, pee jokes, sex jokes, and pop-culture references that instantly date themselves. With material like this, a movie depends on its leads' delivery, but Hathaway is shockingly unappealing, playing 99 as a leggy queen bitch with horrible comic timing. She and Carell don't have enough chemistry to pull off a buddy picture, let alone a love story. Their action sequences are some of their best, if only because you're relieved from their half-assed Tracy and Hepburn antics.
While there are some bright spots--specifically Arkin and Carell--Get Smart is ultimately a wasted opportunity. You don't cast Terence Stamp to mug as a James Bond-ian supervillain named Siegfried and then give him about 15 minutes of screen time, with lines that would have been laughed out of a G.I. Joe story meeting. A bewildering Bill Murray cameo as an agent trapped inside of a tree is a typical fumble; you can almost see Murray trying to will the setup to be funnier than it is on paper. James Caan breezes through a one-note President Bush parody that's half as enjoyable as the one in Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. When the studio green-lights Get Smart 2, and the movie's ending suggests it's already on its way, you can only hope they find a punchier script--and a livelier Agent 99.