The film: Innerspace (1987)
The Principals: Dennis Quaid (Lt. “Tuck” Pendleton), Martin Short (Jack Putter), Meg Ryan (Lydia Maxwell), Kevin McCarthy (Victor Scrimshaw), Robert Picardo (“The Cowboy”), Vernon Wells (Mr. Igoe), Fiona Lewis (Dr. Margaret Canker). Executive Produced By Steven Spielberg. Directed by Joe Dante.
The Premise: Lt. “Tuck” Pendleton is a naval pilot who has become a drunken embarrassment to his career. After making a scene at a formal dinner honouring several of his peers, Tuck is escorted home by his girlfriend Lydia only to have her leave him naked in the middle of the street the next day after breaking up with him. Facing a severely limited number of career choices available to him, Tuck signs up to be a part of a scientific experiment involving miniaturization.
Meanwhile, Jack Putter is an extremely nervous little guy who works as an assistant manager at a supermarket. His life is a mess – he’s easily stressed, neurotic, manic, spastic… probably some other “-ics”… It also doesn’t help that the three main people in his life all take advantage of him – his boss, the girl he works with that he likes, and even his doctor. After a nightmare involving a cross between Large Marge and Peggy Bundy pulling a gun on him at the register throws the final straw onto his frayed nerves, Jack’s doctor recommends he take a relaxing vacation.
Back at your standard government testing lab, Pendleton is tucked away in a small, one-man, submersible craft and ready to begin the experiment. The test is simple – shrink the craft down and inject it into a rabbit, where Tuck will establish visual and auditory connection, while recording the rabbits internal workings from the inside… for science! The experiment requires two microchips to execute. While only one is necessary to shrink, it requires both to embiggen. The experiment is a success, and the miniature Pendleton is prepared in a syringe for rabbit-stabbing.
Unfortunately, an unsavory business type (is there any other kind?) named Victor Scrimshaw wants the chips so he can sell them to the highest bidder… for capitalism! Scrimshaw’s partner, Dr. Canker, and her cronies infiltrate the government lab where the experiment is taking place. They manage to steal one of the chips (all while we keep wondering why government facilities always seem to have such shitty security), but fail to capture the second one. It just happens to be in the submarine, which just happens to be in the syringe, which just happens to be escaping in the possession of the guy in charge of the experiment. Canker – sore at losing the second chip – sends her number one henchmen Mr. Igoe after the fleeing scientist. The chase leads them both to the local mall… which just so happens to be where the travel agency is where Jack is putting together his vacation plans.
Yeah, you know where this is going… Chocolate and peanut butter are about to collide in some weird and inappropriate metaphor where one is inside the other or something. And that metaphor is represented by the single act of Tuck Pendleton getting injected into the buttocks of Jack Putter – without even being offered dinner or flowers. Now Tuck has to figure out where he is, Jack has to figure out why Wez Bennett suddenly has detachable kung-fu grip and is chasing after him, and Meg Ryan has to figure out why plastic surgering her face until it looks like one of the puppets from Troll is not a good idea. Meanwhile, they all have to deal with Robert Picardo in his underpants. After that, it’s a race to get the chips back to where they belong while evading the half-baddies before Tuck runs out of air and he’s forced to be shown on SYFY every weekend.
Is It Good? The Howling. Gremlins. Amazon Women on the Moon. Remember when it was the eighties and Joe Dante had a string of fun, innovative, and creative movies coming out on a regular basis? This is one of them! Very few directors could get a decent run like that back then, and it seems to be even more difficult to pull that off now. Yet, Innerspace is a shining example of the type of film this man was capable of during the decade of Reaganomics and synthesizers. It’s a well-constructed action/romantic/comedy that takes a fascinating concept previously used in mostly serious sci-fi fare and has fun with it.
Unfortunately, Innerspace doesn’t seem to register in the collective movie consciousness anymore. Usually when people bring up any of Dante’s work nowadays it’s either one of the Gremlins films or even that whole scandal surrounding Twilight Zone: The Movie. You just don’t hear people bring up Innerspace in general film discussion. At least I don’t. It doesn’t even have a Blu-ray release as of yet, though a good portion of Dante’s other films have already gone on to BD. It’s almost like it’s been left behind in the decade it came from – much like movies such as Short Circuit or Mac and Me. It’s a shame and it’s unfair, as Innerspace is truly a gem that’s worth rediscovering.
First, let’s take a look at the amount of acting talent brought to the table by the leads alone – Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Martin Short. Each one of them was either at the height of his/her career or riding the momentum of their rising star when this was being filmed. Quaid continues to bring the same kind of charm that made him noticeable in films like Dreamscape, Enemy Mine, and The Right Stuff. He’s such a loveable rogue in this movie, and does a fantastic job of balancing his asshole-light traits with his sense of duty and heart. Very Han Solo. He also pulls off a great straight man against Short’s Putter – a feat even more impressive considering the unique manner in which their schtick is executed. This is the Dennis Quaid I enjoyed seeing onscreen when I was growing up.
Short is simply hilarious in this film. He’s the Jerry Lewis to Quaid’s Dean Martin here, bringing the same comedic chops that make him so much fun to watch on SNL and SCTV, as well as in movies like The Three Amigos. Short really proves how skilled he is in multiple forms of comedy. One minute he can skillfully banter in the art of subtle wordplay, and the next minute he can channel all his manic energy into a single, spastic routine of physical comedy that would make comics like Lewis proud. Surprisingly, Little Neddie even pulls off a few decent moments of romantic comedy against Meg Ryan. They play sweetly and honestly – enough to make Short a considerable option to play romantic leads in later films like Cross My Heart.
Meg Ryan continues to do here what she was most known for in the eighties – the adorable girl-next-door who wields moxy and spice on command when necessary. Her chemistry with both Short and Quaid feels natural and works well (so much so with Quaid that they would end up marrying not long after this movie was made). The three of them simply make a great team, and Ryan has no trouble keeping up with either her male leads or with whatever action the plot throws at her.
Rounding out the cast is an incredible collection of terrific character actors. Vernon Wells continues to make his mark on eighties films with yet another memorable heavy. Kevin McCarthy chews more villainous scenery, much like I described in my UHF article. Robert Picardo probably gets to have the most fun as “The Cowboy”, especially once he gets to play him as Jack Putter disguised as “The Cowboy”. Picardo is able to juggle both approaches to the character with such skill, years before most people would know him as a holographic doctor. And once you factor in performances by folks like Henry Gibson, Wendy Schaal, Joe Flaherty, and Andrea Martin, you see that Innerspace has a rich tapestry of colourful and memorable characters, all of whom add tremendously to the enjoyment of the film.
Topping off the list of elements that make Innerspace so good is the fact that this is a Spielberg production. And much like other films he’s thrown the dough at you can feel the touch of his beard throughout the entire movie. There’s a certain element of magic(al science) and wonder mixed in with lighthearted adventure and humour. I know I’ve probably overused this word to the point of meaninglessness in this article, but Innerspace is simply a lot of fun – fun with heart, excitement, and plenty of laughs.
Is It Worth a Look? If you loved anything about Dante films from the eighties, then it certainly is. In fact, if you really loved Joe Dante at all you’d watch this immediately (especially after all he’s done for you). Like I mentioned earlier though, this movie doesn’t seem to have held the attention over the years that many of Dante’s (or even Spielberg’s) movies get anymore. It’s an often overlooked gem that really deserves a revisit. For first-timers, it’s a great example of the type of light-hearted adventure/comedies featuring a great cast that are good for an afternoon of lounging or a nice quiet evening of popcorn and friends.
Random Anecdotes: Joe Dante – a major fan of Looney Tunes – continues his trademark of incorporating nods and references to the Warner Bros. cartoons in this film. The rabbit meant to receive Tuck and his pod is named Bugs, the Tasmanian Devil spinning noise is used for the scene when the pod is spinning in the centrifuge, and Chuck Jones has a cameo appearance in a supermarket scene at the beginning of the film. Even Quaid’s ass in the break-up scene is drawn and animated by Jones.
Robert Picardo had to perform double duty during the scene where Tuck tweaks Jack’s face to look like “The Cowboy”, as the scene was one continuous take. Once the transformation was complete, Picardo had to play the beginning of the scene as Jack, then run back into the bathroom through a fake wall while shedding a tear-away version of Jack’s outfit in time for the camera to move back into the bathroom to show the real “Cowboy” still unconscious in the tub. It is unknown if Picardo had to change his briefs.
Sadly, Innerspace still has no Blu-ray release. Yet Batman and Robin does. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
Cinematic Soulmates: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Fantastic Voyage; Explorers