For evidence of how the big-screen version of TV's Get Smart went so terribly awry, look no further than the classic "Cone Of Silence" gag. The Cone Of Silence is a special apparatus in which people can discuss highly sensitive, top-secret information without the possibility of being overheard; trouble is, the device works so well that they can't hear each other, either. On the 1960s show, created by up-and-comers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the cone was hilariously unwieldy, a Plexiglas monstrosity that descended from the ceiling and encased the participants. In the movie, the cone is just a malfunctioning digital effect, which betrays the clunky analog charm of the original, and in the process completely misses the joke. In fact, there are many stretches when it's easy to forget that Get Smart is a spoof; it's more like a third-rate James Bond with pratfalls.
Given Steve Carell's gift for amiable buffoonery, there's probably no one better to step into the role of Maxwell Smart, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau-like secret agent immortalized by Don Adams. And yet Carell can't capture the inimitable tenor of Adams' voice and delivery, which leaves only his willingness to look like a fool. After the evildoers known as KAOS infiltrate his spy agency CONTROL, Max gets a long-sought-after promotion from nerdy analyst to active field agent in an effort to bring KAOS' ringleader (Terence Stamp) to justice. A humorlessly humorless Anne Hathaway plays his reluctant partner, the sexy Agent 99, and the two head off to Chechnya to thwart KAOS' nuclear ambitions.
For some unfathomable reason, Adams' original Max has been reconceived here as a considerably more competent operative, a brilliant analyst who can also kick a little ass when 99 isn't rescuing him from various scrapes. How is that funny? Carell will do anything for a laugh, and as with his character in The Office, Max's obliviousness to other people and to his own ineptitude plays to Carell's strengths. But Get Smart is too slick by half, and there's little in the script to support the star but a series of warmed-over spy games punctuated by pain humor and strained banter with Hathaway's snippy, scolding 99. In updating a beloved TV show, the filmmakers have gone out of their way to excise everything that was fun about it.