It’s no secret that movies based on old TV shows generally stink. In many cases that may be because the original source material wasn’t very good. In the case of this movie I don’t think that’s the case. For those too young to remember: Get Smart was a 1960s spy spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, probably the two funniest comedy writers of the era.
The movie doesn’t try to follow the original too closely. This is a Get Smart with high production values and cool special effects, with a Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) who is intellegent, nerdy, neurotic and clumsy, an Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) who is cool and snarky, a hot-tempered Chief (Alan Arkin), a Siegfried (Terence Stamp) who is a creepy psychopath who is not at all funny, and a Larabee (David Koechner) who is not stupid but a total jerk.
In this version Maxwell Smart is a brilliant intelligence analyst who wants the glamorous life of a field agent. He finally succeeds and is assigned to work with the experienced Agent 99, who is not pleased to have to work with a clumsy neophyte. This, of course, is the opposite of the original series where Smart was an experienced agent with a long string of successes (despite the fact that he was a total idiot), and 99 was the competent but inexperienced agent assigned as his partner.
There is nothing really wrong with these changes. The real problem is that any movie called Get Smart needs to be extremely funny–at least as funny as the original series if not more so (since we expect more from movies.) This isn’t the case here. The old gags fall flat in the new context, and the new jokes seem comparatively weak.
There is a lot of talent here, but the writing talents of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry are sorely missed.