Innerspace (1987) / Comedy-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, some violence, and brief nudity
Running Time: 120 min.

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Fiona Lewis, Vernon Wells, Robert Picardo, Wendy Schaal, Harold Sylvester, William Schallert, Henry Gibson, Orson Bean
Director: Joe Dante
Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam, Chip Proser
Review published November 28, 2004

Another screwball genre flick from director Joe Dante (Gremlins, The 'burbs), and like most of his films, the set-up is solid, but the climax makes the plot come unhinged with non-stop madness and mayhem.  Luckily, by the time we get to this point, we have been sufficiently entertained to deem Innerspace a worthwhile form of escapist entertainment, with clever ideas, a nice cast of actors, and some very good special effects. 

Innerspace takes its premise from Fantastic Voyage, where a cocksure Navy test pilot, Tuck Pendleton (Quaid, Dreamscape), is set to become the first man to be shrunk down to microscopic form to traverse in a submersible through the body of a rabbit.  Except a gang of high-tech thieves break into the lab shortly before the injection takes place, and fearing this technology will end up in the wrong hands, one of the scientists injects him into a random passerby, a Safeway cashier named Jack Putter (Short, Three Amigos).  Using the on-board gadgets in the submersible, Tuck is able to speak to Jack, who initially thinks he is going crazy, and get him to help him thwart the bad guys, while also trying to get the means to return him to normal size again.

Innerspace starts off with a terrific high-concept premise, and while we learn about how it all works, Dante builds up the momentum quite well.  Good science fiction combined with state-of-the-art special effects, as you'd expect from a Steven Spielberg produced film, and had it stayed wry and intelligent throughout, a very solid film might have resulted.

I suppose somewhere along the line, someone must have thought the film really needed more laughs.  Obviously, casting slapstick comedian Martin Short should send a signal that Innerspace is going to be a comedy, but in this case, the comedy gets in the way, and causes the science fiction elements to lose credibility.  For instance, there is a scene, played completely for laughs, where Jack Putter's appearance changes to look just like the hired hitman known as The Cowboy (played by Dante favorite, Robert Picardo).  This scene makes no sense.  The submersible is a prototype meant to travel throughout the body of a rabbit, and somehow it is also imbued with the much more fantastic ability to change all of the physical features of a human being as well?  Well, this scene is constructed only for a few giggles, and nothing more. 

Unlike Ghostbusters, which manages to balance slapstick comedy and the supernatural elements, Innerspace cheapens itself by going for pratfalls, sight gags, and silly shenanigans.  Not enough to ruin enjoyment of the film as a whole, but the last half hour is little more than a protracted chase scene that threatens to undermine what Dante had constructed so well up to that point.  Again, it's Dante's tendency to have climaxes that give the effect of spinning wildly out of control, which is precisely where the tightness in the plot is also unraveled.

I have a feeling that there were competing camps going into the production of Innerspace: the people who wanted a funny sci-fi flick and the others who wanted a special effects laden comedy.  Nobody seemed to win, as what starts out as the former soon becomes the latter, and neither camp has been fully satisfied.  In the end, the entertainment level does ultimately make Innerspace a worthwhile adventure for those who want a pleasantly imaginative diversion, so it's worth a look for comedy or sci-fi heads.  However, as far as trying to be a truly good movie, this fits-and-starts comedy (please excuse the pun) comes up a little Short.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo