Do you remember the 1980 Get Smart movie “The Nude Bomb?”
If you don’t, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. If you do, don’t let it keep you from seeing this new take on the original premise.
Not a continuation of the story, as “The Nude Bomb” and 1989’s “Get Smart Again” were, but a whole new beginning, this year’s Get Smart movie takes us back before Maxwell Smart meets 99, and in fact before Max becomes Agent 86.
Unlike its predecessors, it’s a worthy successor to the original.
In this story, Control has been compromised.
For those unfamiliar with the old series, Control was a secret government agency battling the forces of crime and evil, KAOS, during the cold war. As far as the public knows, both organizations are now defunct. (This is all explained in the opening minutes of the movie.)
Of course, both Control and KAOS are very much alive.
Unfortunately, someone has revealed to KAOS the identity of all Control agents around the world, and those agents have now either been killed or pulled from active duty. With Control out of the way, KAOS is free to blackmail the United States with a nuclear arsenal in the hands of the world’s most unstable dictators and despots.
The only agents still available are 99 (Anne Hathaway) who has recently undergone extensive plastic surgery, and the just-promoted Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), agent 86. There’s just one problem: Experienced and capable 99 wants nothing to do with inexperienced and bumbling 86. Nevertheless, the Chief (Alan Arkin) puts them together and sends them off to stop KAOS.
Casting choices are superb.
The original series was a campy spoof of spy movies and Don Adams portrayal of 86 was perfect for that context, more slapstick than serious, more buffoon than brilliant.
While still a comedy, this modernized version is a much more serious take on the genre. 86 is still a bit of a buffoon, an accident waiting to happen, but that’s simply because of his inexperience. He’s actually a great agent; he just needs the chance to grow. And this is the way Steve Carell plays him; less slapstick, more sophistication; less idiocy, more intelligence.
Also perfect for the role is Alan Arkin as the long-suffering Chief, originally played by Edward Platt as the straight man to Adam’s comedian.
Anne Hathaway fits to a T the character of 99. She has the grace and charm Barbara Feldon brought to the role in the 60’s, as well as the physicality required for the updated action sequences.
Exemplifying the more serious feel of the film is Terence Stamp as KAOS mastermind Siegfried. Bernie Kopell played the original character (and makes a brief cameo this time around) as an over-the-top German caricature, more funny than frightening. Stamp, on the other hand, convinces us that Siegfried is a vicious villain.
Making brief appearances are Bill Murray as Agent 13, whom fans of the old series will remember was always stuck in some cramped hiding spot, and Patrick Warburton as Hymie, the reprogrammed KAOS robot.
New characters include Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent 23, Max’s inspiration, and Bruce (Masi Oka) and Lloyd (Nate Torrence) as the two tech guys who supply Control agents with their gadgets. Oka and Torrence also star in a spin-off movie filmed concurrently with Get Smart, Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control.
Other than the opening sequence, the movie keeps up a fast pace through intense action scenes well balanced with comedic interludes and exposition. That opening sequence seems to drag a bit as it shows Max before he becomes Agent 86, carrying out his duties as a precise and even obsessive intelligence analyst, but it reveals Max’s humanity and insight into the minds and motivations of the bad guys, a skill he puts to good use later in the movie.
Fans of the old series will delight in seeing Max back behind the wheel of his red Sunbeam Tiger and talking on his shoe phone.
The cone of silence is also back with a high-tech update that works as well as ever.
And it’s a delight to see the origin of some of Smart’s signature phrases, “Would you believe …,” “Sorry about that, Chief,” and of course, “Missed it by that much.”
Get Smart misses nothing.
Random Notions rating: 4 out of 5
Get Get Smart on Blu-ray from Amazon.