Would you believe … a classic TV comedy cloaked as an action movie?
That's the gamble of the new "Get Smart" film starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway as Maxwell Smart and Agent 99.
It opens Friday in a season when few comedies have been in theaters. In "Get Smart," the emphasis often is more on fight sequences and chases than jokes.
Of course, the tone of the film is undeniably silly, but the abundance of fight sequences, crashing planes, explosions and special effects show how different an adaptation can be when Hollywood tries to liven up a TV series that ran from 1965 to 1970.
On a day of shooting last year at the Warner Bros. lot, the rooftop of a Russian building had been constructed inside a soundstage, complete with exploding walls, collapsing signs and plumes of flame as Max and 99 fought a goliath henchman (7-foot-2 Dalip Singh).
"This isn't my favorite stunt to do," Hathaway says after hanging by a harness over the self-destructing villain's lair and being clutched by the throat. She also banged her head off one of the hot pipes pumping gas flames onto the set, which required a temporary halt.
But after playing it sweet in movies such as "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Becoming Jane," Hathaway says, she liked "Get Smart's" approach to action.
"I'm a girl who likes to kick a little butt sometimes," she says. "I really like playing 99 as a fearless woman."
Director Peter Segal describes her as "James Bond in a skirt."
With that in mind, Agent 99's swooning "Oh, Max …" catchphrase isn't used as frequently, but it is there, along with lines such as Smart's "Would you believe …" and "Sorry about that, Chief."
"In our story, 99 is the more experienced agent, so she is kind of keeping him from screwing anything up," co-screenwriter Matt Ember says.
The one who seemed to be inserting the most comedy back into the exploding building scene was Carell. In take after take of him being thrown atop Hathaway, with his hands inadvertently pressed against her chest, Carell improvised a different, risqué line each time. The movie includes one of his tamest reactions, perhaps a result of the PG-13 requirements.
Co-screenwriter Tom J. Astle says changes were necessary because the original "Get Smart" "was more a true spoof at the time. If we tried to mimic that tone in our movie, I think we'd come close to 'Austin Powers' or 'The Naked Gun' movies. So the territory that ('Get Smart') sort of invented has been mined. We wanted a movie that has a good romantic comedy and has good action and adventure in the middle of it."
"Not just for laughs," Ember adds.