The comic-book geek’s toxic catchphrase “origin story” is invoked in its most ridiculous context yet by Get Smart director Peter Segal in the press notes for this sluggish, overblown contraption adapted from the sublimely silly ’60s spy sitcom of the same name. Using the insufferable Batman Begins as their model, Segal and his half-witted writers introduce intelligence analyst Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell, deploying his familiar bag of Office tricks) entering CONTROL headquarters in the bowels of the Smithsonian via the familiar slamming doors and phone-booth elevator that Don Adams used 40 years ago. After meeting-cute with high-kicking Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) and training with a vain alpha-spy (Dwayne Johnson, still with the depth of a remote personal trainer), Max is reluctantly promoted to a field position and partners with the Amazonian 99 to trace nuclear material stolen in Chechnya by KAOS adversary Siegfried (Terence Stamp, the new old Malcolm McDowell). The result is an unwieldy spoof-thriller of clashing styles that undermine each other like a parade of double agents (e.g., the traitorous major character whose true nature is tipped way too early).
Carell and Hathaway, both able, are given an excess of how-I-hate-you sniping to set the stage for inevitable romance, but nicely carry off the best sequence, a can-you-top-this dance-off to Perez Prado at a Russian baddie’s mansion. But under more pernicious superhero-epic influence, Max and 99 are saddled with inner-pain backstories: he’s formerly obese (in a flashback fat suit), she’s undergone professionally required reconstructive surgery. Just the ticket for two-dimensional clowning spies! (Bill Murray’s cameo as a lonely agent posted in a hollow tree is the closest brush with genuine pathos.)
Most of the action-movie stuff, particularly an endless plane-and-car chase climax, is astoundingly played straight, and the warmed-over ex-Eastern-bloc plot has the vibe of a weak Roger Moore 007 caper, complete with Washington-Moscow-L.A. globetrotting and a humongous Richard Kiel-like henchman. Promisingly cast as Chief of CONTROL, Alan Arkin (co-star of the blissful 1979 spy comedy The In-Laws) rarely gets to kvetch as only he can, but is regularly given to temperamentally tackling and decking bureaucratic foes. What a waste.
In that worst of all veins, Segal and his partners replace the kid-friendly warmth of the TV show’s goofiness with heaps of sadism: Carell accidentally mutilating himself with metal pins, crotch-pounding violence, a high body count, a mistakenly-witnessed-buttfucking gag and other staples of the post-funny comedy era of crudity (now including the actual stapling of papers to people’s heads). Since original series creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry are credited as “consultants,” I like to envision them nodding noncommittally as they cashed their checks. No matter how many cute nods to the TV show they wedge in (the shoe phone, Adams’s catchphrases, putting Hathaway in a bobbed wig that recalls the purring, witty 99 of Barbara Feldon), the makers of this Get Smart have essentially cranked out a dull slam-bang spectacle where laughs are tertiary. The reaction of a nostalgic Boomer who’s witnessed a childhood favorite pissed on? Well, that’s easy for you to say…