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Sorry about that, classic 'Get Smart' fans

Back in the classic '60s sitcom, bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams) was wont to say, "Missed it by that much," when, in fact, he had missed something by a country mile.

Back in the classic '60s sitcom, bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams) was wont to say, "Missed it by


much," when, in fact, he had missed something by a country mile.

You could apply the same observation to this facile big-screen remake starring Steve Carell: "Missed it by that much."

The movie cannibalizes the basic framework of the old TV spy spoof: the premise, the main characters, the catchphrases, and many of the sight gags, including the series of slamming steel gates Max has to pass through to enter C.O.N.T.R.O.L. headquarters.

All that's missing is the spirit and the anarchic humor of the sitcom created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. The result is an overdressed, carefully stitched scarecrow of a comedy.

In the new Get Smart, Max is a brilliant if fussy government analyst, interpreting chatter - bits of enemy conversation picked up by satellites and other espionage hardware.

When the evil K.A.O.S., led by the unlikely tandem of Terence Stamp and Borat pal Ken Davitian, infiltrates Max's organization, dashing spies like Dwayne Johnson's cocky Agent 23 are assigned to desk duty and the pencil-pushing Max is pushed out into the field. For his first international assignment, he is teamed with the lanky and lethal Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).

Their mission is a tedious exercise in cloak-and-stagger, with lots of physical gags, double entendres and humiliation humor (like Max ballroom-dancing with an enormous woman). It's a series of slapstick sketches slammed together without the cohesion of narrative.

As a diversionary tactic, the movie supersizes the supporting cast,ranging from Alan Arkin (assuming Edward Platt's old role as Chief) to Heroes' Masi Oka, David Koechner, Dalip Singh (better known as professional wrestler the Great Khali) as a Jaws-like adversary, and James Caan, who is dreadful as the dim-witted president with the Texas twang.

But Get Smart is just warming up. It mixes in cameos in manic and madcap fashion, a wild cavalcade including Bill Murray, Kevin Nealon, Patrick Warburton and Bernie Kopell, the Love Boat doctor who was the original K.A.O.S. boss on TV. There's even a vocal drop-in from Ryan Seacrest, who also gets name-checked in the script with suspicious frequency.

But all these faces popping out of the woodwork - or in Murray's case, out of the wood - don't do much to disguise the emptiness at the heart of Get Smart. Carell gives a bewilderingly bland performance. Maybe he just couldn't get a handle on his character, who is a hopeless klutz in one scene and an acrobatic superman in the next.

Hathaway lends this clunky caper a touch of class. But even that proves to be a sour note because it reminds you of what an enjoyable film this could have been if only all hands had fully committed to it instead of going through the motions.

Director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy) wields a brisk pace that puts the best possible face on this material. But he's overwhelmed by a tacked-on and interminable final act in which a disgraced Max must redeem himself and avert a cataclysm. The action scenes, and there are many of them, are incredibly feeble.

Still, the old theme song, written by Irving Szathmary, the older brother of comedian Bill Dana, also known as Jose Jimenez, still sounds good. So at least Get Smart has that going for it.

Get Smart ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Peter Segal. With Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and Dwayne Johnson. Distributed by Warner Bros.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (rude humor, violence)

Playing at: area theatersEndText