The old espionage spoof trick worked to push Steve Carell's "Get Smart," the big screen update of the 1960s spy sitcom, to the top of the box office over the weekend.
Although reviews were mixed, the Warner Bros. movie surpassed high expectations, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Audiences were less taken with "The Love Guru," the first live-action movie starring Mike Myers in four years. The Paramount Pictures film, with Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake and Ben Kingsley, opened in a disappointing fourth place with $14 million.
Overall, Hollywood's summer of content continued, with total revenue climbing for the fourth straight weekend compared with last year. The industry is on track to beat its revenue record set last summer, when sales topped $4 billion for the first time.
"People are finding solace from the economy, gas prices and the summer heat at the movies," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media by Numbers. " 'Get Smart' did better than a lot of people expected."
"Kung Fu Panda," the animated comedy featuring the voice of Jack Black, remained in second place with sales of $21.7 million. The film was produced by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. and distributed by Paramount.
In "Panda," Black's character is a chubby, bungling panda who aspires to be a kung fu warrior. The film also stars the voices of Dustin Hoffman and Angelina Jolie.
Marvel Entertainment Inc.'s "The Incredible Hulk" fell to third place from first with sales of $21.6 million for General Electric Co.'s Universal Pictures.
"Iron Man" cruised past the $300-million mark in the U.S. after nearly two months in release, becoming the first film this year to hit that mark. The Paramount hit's domestic box- office total after this weekend is an estimated $305 million.
In "Get Smart," Carell re-creates the blundering Maxwell Smart character created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. The show starred Don Adams as Agent 86 of a secret U.S. government spy agency under the guise of a greeting card salesman. Anne Hathaway plays Agent 99, Smart's capable partner.
In the film, the duo try to thwart a plot to arm unstable governments with nuclear bombs. Dwayne Johnson co-stars as a spy colleague and Alan Arkin as the spy agency's chief.
Some critics derided the movie for forgoing the verbal comedy of the TV show in place of uninspired action but new and old fans of the franchise appeared undeterred. Nearly 60% of the audience was 25 or older, leaving a larger than expected younger audience.
The film marks the highest weekend opening for Hathaway. Her previous top weekend opener was 2006's "The Devil Wears Prada."
In limited release, "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" opened strongly with $222,697 in five theaters, averaging $44,539 a cinema, compared with $10,012 in 3,911 theaters for "Get Smart."
Released by Picturehouse, "Kit Kittredge" is based on the popular line of American Girl dolls and stars Abigail Breslin as a 9-year-old aspiring newspaper reporter during the Depression.