Steve Carell as an action hero? ''It just seems like the next logical step for me,'' the Office star deadpans. Not exactly. In fact, the comedic actor sort of stumbled into the part of oblivious superspy Maxwell Smart. In 2004, just after costarring opposite Will Ferrell in Anchorman, Carell was called in for a meeting at Warner Bros. Thinking it was for a cattle-call audition, he showed up with his head shot and résumé. They offered him Get Smart instead. ''It was so ridiculous,'' he says. ''That was the first I had heard about the project at all.''
The movie had been in development for years. Jim Carrey, Martin Lawrence, and Will Ferrell had all been linked to it at one time or another. Director Peter Segal (Anger Management) had even turned it down a couple of times. The trouble, in part, was figuring out how to make the shticky, shoe-phone-using Smart created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry for TV in 1965 and resurrected in the 1980 film The Nude Bomb relevant to a millennial audience. It was Carell, Segal says, who broke the code: ''Steve had the idea, What if we do a comedic Bourne Identity?''
In this new version, Smart spends his days at the agency CONTROL, writing reports nobody reads. He dreams of being a hotshot field agent, and gets his chance when the evil forces of KAOS attack CONTROL's headquarters. Smart sets off to save the world, with hostile (but sultry!) Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) by his side. The film's tone is more slapstick than satire, which plays to Carell's strengths. That's good news, because with the actor coming off last year's disappointing Evan Almighty, Hollywood is seeking confirmation that he can open a big film. So is Get Smart smart enough to attract summer crowds? ''To be honest,'' says Hathaway, ''I put my faith in Steve.'' Good thinking, 99. (June 20)