This big-screen version of Get Smart succeeds because, unlike the main character, newly minted field spy Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), every person who worked on the movie performed their job competently. This is not minor praise. Director Peter Segal makes both the comedy and the action pop with energy. He knows when to cut to a joke, and when to trust his actors to get the point home with their interactions. He's as comfortable staging a humorous ballroom dance competition as he is constructing a kinetic beat down administered by Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to a couple of bad guys. The action scenes, particularly the hand-to-hand fight scenes, aren't treated as comedy, but as tense and exciting set pieces. Dean Semler's cinematography balances the brightness required for comedy and the darkness needed to add tension with unobtrusive professionalism. Quite simply this is the most enjoyable American action comedy since Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Every one of the actors understands that playing it "straight" will get a bigger laugh than if they emphasized the comedy, and that allows Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Dwayne Johnson, and Anne Hathaway to play off each other like real people and not comedy constructs. Even the throwaway bits of silliness usually have a second and sometimes a third layer to them, evidence that the screenwriters actually thought through the material instead of just bashing together a bunch of outrageous moments. Get Smart isn't exactly memorable, and it isn't particularly deep -- although it has a fair amount of fun tweaking the processes of gathering and analyzing intelligence in the age of George W. Bush, spoofed to perfection in the movie by James Caan. Would you believe that an action comedy about an inept spy could be a serious Oscar contender? Would you believe a trend-setting summer blockbuster? Would you believe a thoroughly enjoyable piece of Hollywood product? Well actually, that last one is right.