In the old TV series (and certainly in this updated big screen version), Maxwell Smart famously uttered the phrase, "Missed it by that much" whereupon he would hold his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. If Smart were to hold his digits apart in reference to this film and its success, agent 86 would hold his fingers more like a foot apart.
In the espionage world of the super secret organizations, Control and the evil-axis Kaos, in-house analyst Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) gets his chance to work as a field agent when the Control headquarters falls under attack and the identities of the agents compromised. Instead of his dream partner Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) Smart gets paired with the tough yet stunning Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).
Smart and 99 attempt to unravel the KAOS master plan by chasing KAOS operative Sigfreid (Terence Stamp) and his sidekick Shtarker (Kenneth Davitian) who attempt to make some coin by selling nuclear warheads to the several rogue leaders. The film darts from through various Eastern European countrysides, though Moscow, and Los Angeles in an effort to create create a distraction from the paper thin story.
It may be time to get these TV shows that jump to the silver screen under control because they end up creating chaos for audiences. Director Peter Segal ("The Longest Yard," "Tommy Boy") and writers Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember ("Failure to Launch"), (already a bad sign) perhaps aren't even old enough to remember the old TV series. The series that included the famous closing metal security doors, the phone booth, the shoe phone and the cone of silence. Segal and his scribes do include those bits in the film (those would be the highlights) but when they create their own material it feels like a piece of gum streched out and chewed till the flavor dissipates. How many chases can a film include without someone asking, "Are you doing this just to fill in time?"
Even though this film is based on a TV show, one might question how much material or characters you can take from another film. Anyone who witnessed "Moonraker" will see how the creative brains tossed in Richard Kiel as a "Jaws" character, and recreate that parachute scene from that B-grade Bond film. Parody? Homage? Who cares? Not amusing Mr. Segal.
Steve Carrell can be hugely funny if given the right material but instead of "Smart" and funny he comes off as silly and goofy but in this case the blame falls on Segal. The film needed a director more adept with smart physical comedy. If a film is all about tone then this one comes off as tone deaf. Besides Agent 86, other characters suffer the same fate with Stamp acting like a cruel villain instead of the semi-serious Zigfreid that we could expect. Even poor Shtarker fails to deliver any laughs but then again he isn't given an opportunity to
The credits showed Mel Brooks and Buck Henry as consultants. Perhaps the producers should have taken the smart step and hired them as a writer/director team instead.