Thanks to The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I'm a big Steve Carell fan. He can play broad comedy (such as in Anchorman) but he also has a style that's more quiet and focused, and can earn as big a laugh with a few deadpan words or a small look as Jim Carrey can with a huge amount of energy or Seth Rogen with a big profane punchline. He's not by himself a reason for me to go to the theater - nothing could convince me to go see Evan Almighty - but for a movie like Get Smart for which I was on the edge his presence was enough to sway me. And I'm pleased to say it exceeded my expectations.
I've never seen the TV series from which the film is adapted so I have no basis for comparison, but from the trailer I was expecting a bit more of Austin Powers-esque pure comedy, something completely lighthearted and whimsical and with no real sense of threat. And while there is plenty of comedy here - slapstick and awkward moments and, yes, some satire of spy movies, I was happily surprised that it was really more of an action-comedy. The villain has a big evil James Bond-style plot that, while over the top in a similar way, isn't played particularly for laughs. And there's action scenes here, car chases and fights and shootouts, that are shot with care and played for excitement in the same way they would be in an action movie. Bad guys show up and start shooting at Steve Carell, and damn if he doesn't pull out his gun and non-ironically or non-humorously shoot them and kill them. And I appreciated the hell out of that, because the mix of genres made for double the entertainment.
But while good directors make for good action, comedy lives and dies by its performers, and Steve Carell is (rightfully so, being the protagonist) the highlight here. He a plays well-meaning, frequently awkward, and slightly inept goofy guy not at all dissimilar from Michael Scott or the infamous 40-year-old virgin, and really seems tailor-made for the role. Anne Hathaway isn't as funny as Carell but is likable, energetic, and pretty, and holds her own. I've always found Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to have a very charismatic screen presence (although with the exception of The Rundown and this, he never seems to get good movies to use it in), and while his part here is relatively small it's a good spot of fun. Alan Arkin and Masi Oka (of Heroes fame) win many a laugh with their supporting roles, and Bill Murray has a hilarious cameo.
I won't claim that the movie is great or a must-see, it's just a nice fun action-comedy spy movie; certainly a lot better than any Austin Powers since the first and something I would definitely recommend to any on-the-fence Steve Carell fan.
3 Stars out of 5