There's been a rash of prequels over the past few years, catering for those strange people who have always wanted to know where James Bond got his Aston Martin or how Batman manufactured his Bat-mask, but there's never been a prequel less necessary than Get Smart. The 1960s TV series was a spy spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Pitting Maxwell Smart, agent of Control, against the master criminals of Kaos, it was a parade of deadpan catchphrases and wonderfully impractical gadgets, and it didn't have even a hint of seriousness.
So what was the inspiration behind the new, big-screen version of Brooks's irreverent gagfest? Yes, it was Batman Begins. Peter Segal, Get Smart's director, declares in the press notes, "I liked the way that film reinvented the Batman franchise by telling an origin story in a way that hadn't been previously explored."
Right. There didn't seem to me to be any desperate need to tell Maxwell Smart's origin story in a way that hadn't been previously explored, but the film has Steve Carell's Max starting out as a Control boffin who analyses surveillance recordings. He dreams of being a field agent, but he's failed the practical exam seven years running because he used to be overweight. (Cut to flashbacks of Carell in a fat suit.) It's only when Control's underground base is destroyed and its agents are compromised that Max is promoted to active service.
His reluctant new partner, Anne Hathaway's Agent 99, has traumas of her own to overcome. She's just had plastic surgery to disguise herself, so Hathaway – who thinks she's in a drama – whimpers, "I used to look like my mom." The horrible truth is that these are supposed to be damaged, vulnerable characters who will make us feel their pain as they gradually learn to respect one another. But I don't care about Max's weight loss any more than I care whether Inspector Clouseau got on with his mother, or whether Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun was bullied at school. I just want him to be funny.
The best jokes in Get Smart are all in the trailer. In the film, they get lost among the earnest heart-to-hearts, the stunts and explosions, and a grinding, convoluted plot which involves too many other Control agents (including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), and a villain (a stony Terence Stamp) who's planning nuclear armageddon.
It seems that Segal didn't want to make an all-out comedy, but a Bond movie with a few extra laughs. But the problem with that approach is underlined by a skydiving sequence lifted wholesale from Moonraker. Why bother trying to make a Bond movie with a few extra laughs when that's exactly what Roger Moore was doing 30 years ago?