The 'Get Smart' Remake: Missed It By That Much

"Get Smart" (* * 1/2 out of four) is bright enough, but stops short of being clever.

This contemporary remake of the iconic '60s TV comedy could have used more of the sly wit of show creators Buck Henry and Mel Brooks and less of the antic humor and overblown action sequences that typify Hollywood's summer output.

While the film is breezily entertaining, it also is surprisingly generic, despite the likable Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart. Carell does a fine, goofy job. But you wish he could have tapped into his nuanced and darker comic side that is so hilariously revealed in TV's "The Office". Anne Hathaway is about as effective as Agent 99 as can be imagined, short of the original, Barbara Feldon. But the sentimental facets of her character dilute her sardonic and sassy nature.

The hush-hush spy agency CONTROL employs Smart as an analyst, where he impressively deciphers suspicious "chatter" from surveillance tapes.

But he longs to be where the action is as a field agent. After the agency headquarters is attacked and identities of key operatives compromised, the Chief (sharply played by Alan Arkin) promotes Smart to secret agent.

He idolizes the brawny Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) but is paired with the sultry Agent 99. He's instantly attracted; she's resentful about getting such a nerdy and accident-prone rookie for a partner. The pair is sent on a dangerous mission to thwart a plot for world domination by spy syndicate KAOS.

Smart has only his smarts and trademark gadgets to fight off the malevolent KAOS, headed by Terence Stamp. But his resourcefulness and enthusiasm take him far. As does dumb, bumbling luck.

The screenplay is peppered with such trademark Smart lines as "Sorry about that, Chief," "Would you believe …?" and "Missed it by that much," but they seem almost forcibly inserted rather than interwoven naturally into the script.

And a scene featuring Smart peeling gum off his infamous shoe phone on board a plane is almost a replica of a gag in the latest "Harold & Kumar" movie.

On the plus side, the high-tech "Cone of Silence" sequence offers fresh laughs, as does Smart's arsenal of gadgets, including exploding dental floss and a flame-throwing Swiss Army knife.

This is a film that is keenly aware of its impending summer blockbuster status. And with that in mind, it can't decide whether it wants to be a thrilling action movie or a quirky comic spoof. The elements seem in conflict, rather than seamlessly blended. (Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Opens tonight in some theaters and Friday nationwide.)