Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, ...
Credit: Tracy Bennett

In Get Smart, an homage (would you believe a remake? How about a retrofitting?) of the hit 1960s satiric sitcom about an American spy who bumbled his way through the Cold War with the help of a pre-Steve Jobs shoe phone at his ear, Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway play secret agent Maxwell Smart (who’s not so) and Agent 99 (who’s a dish). The pair work for CONTROL, a U.S. spy agency led by a suitably dyspeptic Alan Arkin as The Chief; the bad guys work for KAOS, an all-purpose, international bad guy clearing house led by a properly villainous Terence Stamp as Siegfried. (Clearly, there’s no longer a market for easy-to-identify Soviet bad guys.)

You’d think the passing of time, and the evolved tastes of generations of younger moviegoers not naturally attuned to the Friars Club kibitzing and political satire of Brooks and Henry, would make the movie a mission: impossible. But you’d be wrong. Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember and directed by Peter Segal with efficiency, cheer, and a refreshing lack of look-how-meta-clever-we-are egotism, the movie references just enough of the original touchstones and punchlines (the cone of silence, the not-ready-for-James-Bond gadgets) to please those who lived it the first time. (Okay, those who lived it the first time, or at least appreciate Brooksian goons named Shtarker and Noodnik Shpilkes are at an advantage.) Yet those who missed the ’60s by that much (or even more) ought to appreciate the movie’s notably clever action sequences, and the fine pseudo-superman self-mockery of Dwayne Johnson as Agent 23. Carell is an expectedly good fit to step into the Smart shoes (with or without secret phone) originally worn by comedian Don Adams. But the unexpected star is Hathaway, looking cool as a runway model in the role originated by Barbara Feldon, lithe as a (pink) panther, and displaying great comic timing. B+

Get Smart
  • Movie
  • 111 minutes