Get Smart the movie is absolutely not Get Smart the TV show, and if we are going to judge Get Smart the movie based solely on how it compares to its illustrious forebear, well it's obviously going to be a flat-out disaster. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry's groundbreaking sitcom remains one of the funniest programs in the history of the medium, whereas the movie, directed by Peter Segal - for to call it "Peter Segal's movie" would grant an entirely unwarranted patina of authorship to the man behind The Naked Gun 33⅓ and 50 First Dates - is nothing more than a pleasingly drowsy summer action comedy that calls to mind the pleasingly drowsy action comedies that used to come out once or twice a year in the 1980s and 1990s.

So let's not compare Get Smart to Get Smart, because as an action comedy, the film is perfectly entertaining in the modest way that it was meant to be enjoyed. In other words: this week you can pay money to see this, or you can pay money to see The Love Guru, and while you might elect to save your money and rest assured that nobody will blame you, it's pretty obvious that one of the two movies is a much better investment than the other.

It's an origin story, of sorts: Maxwell Smart (Steve Carrell), an analyst for the super-secret US intelligence agency CONTROL, is promoted to field agent after the terrorist organisation KAOS kills of most of the CONTROL staff, and learns the ropes with the help of his mentor, the agency's chief (Alan Arkin) and the sexy Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), recently recovered from a massive plastic surgery effort to hide her identity and carve several years off of her appearance. Unsurprisingly, "learning the ropes" means "saving the world from a plot to set off a nest of discarded Soviet nukes," this being a popcorn movie and not a quiet Sundance-style dramedy.

With direction by the resolutely impersonal Segal, and a screenplay by the team of Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, also of Failure to Launch and a healthy number of sitcoms, it inevitably comes to the actors to give Get Smart whatever it has in the way of entertainment value, and in the main they are successful at this. Carrell was always an inspired choice to play Smart, though in the end he does not choose to copy Don Adams's take on the character (which was almost certainly a wise decision), but to play the agent as a typical variation on the Carrell persona. As one who enjoys the Carrell persona, I can't say I was let down, any more than I can say I was pleasantly surprised. The real standouts in the cast are all in the supporting team: Arkin continues proving to a new age that he is totally indispensable, stealing every one of his scenes with the film's best line-readings, proving that he's an old pro in a sea of well-intentioned lightweights. As the cool and awesome Agent 23, Dwayne Johnson Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson nee The Rock has made a rather exciting leap from being just one of those wrestling stars making shitty action pictures into a vital comic character actor - a trend that isn't brand new, but this is surely the biggest step in that transformation he's made yet. Numerous That Guys and famous people fill out the film's small roles, with Bill Murray's one-scene cameo as a man in a tree being the certain highlight.

Only two actors really let the project down, and unfortunately they're in roles that the film can't really afford: the first is the ubiquitous Terence Stamp as the Bondian villain Siegfried, a role that the actor ought to be able to nail in his sleep. In fact, he actually seems to be asleep, bringing not a whisper of bigness to a role positively screaming for campy theatrics. The other is Hathaway, an star whose appeal beyond her bright smile continues to elude me; and since Agent 99 is primarily "the non-nonsense one", that smile is little in evidence, leaving the actress withe exactly zero tricks to play, and the resulting flatness in the film's second-largest character is a particularly draining note of imbalance.

The movie itself isn't, like the show, a comic parody of spy movies; it's much closer to being a spy movie that is unusually funny. That's not terrible, and it's not unprecedented (the marvelous Flint movies in the '60s were the same way), but Get Smart really isn't a very good spy movie, in the age of Jason Bourne and the Daniel Craigified James Bond. Without many strong comic notes - though it should be pointed out, this is less about gags being played badly than it is about the filmmakers electing not to include so many gags - the film's overriding tone is not one of hilarity, nor one of of adventure, but mostly one of geniality. Genial films have the place, right? And it seems we get one or two every summer, and at least by having Carrell as the lead, it is legitimately genial, and not sour and forced. I'm not sure if there's a weaker way to recommend a movie. Ah well, it has tiny goals and it meets them, and while I would never call Get Smart a film for all time, it's a perfectly watchable summer movie, and it's been a few weeks since we've had one of those.

6/10