Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is on a mission to thwart the latest plot for world domination by the evil crime syndicate known as KAOS. When the headquarters of U.S. spy agency Control is attacked and the identities of its agents compromised, the Chief (Alan Arkin) has no choice but to promote his ever-eager analyst Maxwell Smart, who has always dreamt of working in the field alongside stalwart superstar Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson). Smart is partnered instead with the lovely-but-lethal veteran Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). Given little field experience and even less time, Smart, armed with nothing but a few spy-tech gadgets and his unbridled enthusiasm, must thwart the doomsday plans of KAOS head Siegfried (Terence Stamp).
In that faraway era of 1960s television, Get Smart was one of the standout comedy series of the day for a number of reasons – not least the zany humour created by Mel Brooks and the perfect casting of Don Addams as the bumbling secret agent, Maxwell Smart. “We had just come through McCarthyism, the Cuban missile crisis and the search for Reds under the beds,” Brooks said of his inspiration. “I thought it might be a funny idea to show that not everybody in the Cold War was really that smart.” However, given that this was a decade long before the advent of computers and mobile phones, it was the application of technology within the comedy mainframe of the series that lingers longest in the memory. One of the enduring sight gags from the show was Max’s shoe phone – a device built into his right shoe requiring the removal of said footwear to make or receive a call. The shoe could also convert into a gun by dialling the number 117. The heel of the same shoe also concealed a pellet that produced a smokescreen when crushed – not to be confused under any circumstances with the heel of Smart’s other shoe which contained an explosive pellet and suicide pill. At a time when it took anything up to three years to get a landline installed in the average home in Ireland, Maxwell Smart, by comparison, suffered an embarrassment of riches in the communications department with phones also concealed within a necktie, comb, watch, clock, handkerchief, a garden hose, and cigarette lighter. Even the steering wheel of his car became a phone – prompting an operator to annoyingly respond each time Max made a sharp right turn.
Buck Henry, Brooks’s co-writer on the series, also created the Cone of Silence – twin hemispheres of plastic glass lowered over Max and the Chief for ultra secret discussions but which invariably malfunctioned requiring both characters to scream at each other.
Steve Carell approached the role of Maxwell Smart with caution, an enduring and much loved character requiring more than simple imitation as he saw it. “I never wanted to do an impression of Don Adams, to just channel him wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “I wanted to do Maxwell Smart justice but not as a bumbling idiot. Okay, so he’s slow on the uptake most of the time, but he does eventually get the job done. He was actually pretty fit and could throw a decent punch, even if it did look like ballet sometimes.” Get Smart scores mainly on Carell keeping well away from any tribute to Don Addams, and instead rolling with an updated version where Agent 86 and Agent 99 get a little jiggy together – but in a nice, slow-build romantic way. Fat jokes pop up all over the script – but for once in a positive way. Alan Arkin is excellent as The Chief – a man with anger management issues, as well as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a sharp super agent. Sadly, though, Terrence Stamp isn’t utilised half enough as the KAOS big wig. James Caan rounds out the cast as the US President – a mugged-up take on Dubya he clearly loved doing. It’s nowhere near as good as the original, but does bring a smile to the face on more than one occasion.