After the glut of remakes of 1960s TV shows back in the late nineties (Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, Maverick, Wild Wild West, etc.) churned out more duds than hits, it seemed as if Hollywood had since given up on the idea.
And then along came Mike Myers with his Austin Powers character, unrelentingly taking the Mickey out the decade – and the idea seemed to lose its edge even further.
It certainly seemed to make the prospect of film versions of the semi-spoof sixties spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart seem highly unlikely.
Against all expectations, now we’ve got an updating of one of those two Sixties classics – albeit the one least well-known in the UK. It stars an American comedian who may well be a big name on the other side of the pond, but who remains a bit of a mystery to most Brits.
Yes, Steve Carrell was the star of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and has taken Ricky Gervais’ role in the American remake of The Office – but although both are excellent examples of that hard-to-master comedy of embarrassment, few people in the UK have actually seen them.
Instead, and perhaps unfairly, the big draw for most cinema goers here will be the presence of Anne Hathaway.
She’s been popular ever since the massive success of The Devil Wears Prada.
Coming as it did so soon after Brokeback Mountain, which proved her not just a good comic but also a very promising young actress.
In The Devil Wears Prada she proved she had far exceeded the decent child star we’d seen in her breakthrough role in The Princess Diaries back in 2001 and secured her a spot as one of Hollywood’s hottest talents.
But should all eyes really be on Anne?
Just because Steve Carrell has yet to quite secure global superstar status certainly doesn’t mean he’s not up to the job of headlining a film.
His long years of practice, perfecting his bumbling, incompetent persona are perfect for this part.
He takes on the role of incompetent back-room spy Maxwell Smart, finally sent out into the field.
Think James Bond crossed with Inspector Clouseau.
And it’s probably no coincidence that Alan Arkin has been drafted in as the head of spy agency CONTROL.
The veteran Oscar-winner played the bumbling French detective in the oft-forgotten 1968 sequel Inspector Clouseau, while Peter Sellers was on a break from the series.
Hathaway plays the glamorous (and decidedly more competent) Agent 99 helping Smart to fight the forces of sinister crime syndicate KAOS and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson puts in a decent turn as Smart’s idol, the super-spy Agent 23.
Terrence Stamp is on great form as the evil mastermind Seigfried, Bill Murray crops up as well, and James Caan has been perfectly picked as the US President.
This all adds up to a decidedly impressive and extremely well-chosen cast.
Little wonder, then, that the end result – if no masterpiece – is good, solid summer family fun, with more than its share of laughs, even if they may well be rather simplistic at times.
Rather than go for something to blow audiences away, the studio here has sensibly opted for well done light entertainment, and the result is spot on.
The film is nothing too over the top, just the kind of enjoyable, undemanding couple of hours that used to be all the rage at the movies.
Well worth a look.