Entire family: Yes
1987, 120 min., Color
Rated PG for briefly exposed male buttocks, some comic violence, some mild profanity, and drinking
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Like Fantastic Voyage, which preceded it by twenty years, Innerspace won an Academy Award for special effects that simulated the interior of a human body—great effects, actually, considering they were accomplished before the advent of computer-generated images. In Voyage, a team of doctors was miniaturized and injected into a human being in a dramatic attempt to save an important political life. But Innerspace director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers) opts for low comedy, not high drama, with Batmanesque villains, pre-Mask morphing, and more than one Austin Powers-style “mini-me.”
A young looking Dennis Quaid stars as Lt. Tuck Pendleton, a bad-boy Navy pilot with a weakness for alcohol and Lydia, the reporter-girlfriend (Meg Ryan) who walked out on him. Tuck resigns his commission to pilot a submersible pod for an independent lab working on miniaturization. But instead of being injected into a rabbit, as planned, when an industrial terrorist raid interrupts the procedure and a lab technician flees with the syringe containing the tiny Tuck, the pilot is injected instead into the bloodstream of Jack Putter, a frazzled milquetoast supermarket clerk (Martin Short). In a relationship that becomes symbiotic out of sheer necessity, Tuck and Jack party in order to “bond,” then work together to battle personal defects, the bad guys, and (tick, tick) time. Tuck’s oxygen supply is limited, you see, and he needs a microchip the villains have in order to coordinate his reentry into peopledom. But it’s a double search, because the evil Victor Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy)–a comic cross between Mr. Freeze and The Penguin–has one microchip and needs Tuck’s in order to complete the technology theft, and he and his henchmen, his oversexed lead doctor (Fiona Lewis), and industrial spy/hit man “The Cowboy” (Robert Picardo) will do anything to get it.
Since Quaid spends most of the movie sitting inside the pod, it’s a tall order for Short to provide all of the visual action and handle most of the proxy interaction with Ryan. But like Paul Blart, Mall Cop, Short’s character rises to the challenge and the trio has a project chemistry that really makes this otherwise lightweight film an engaging adventure—especially on widescreen and in high def. Together, they really sell the situation. Even when Jack begins to fall for Lydia and compete for her attentions, it’s totally credible—which balances the tonally cartoonish villains.
“For a while, we thought we should call it Fantastic Voyage 2,” Dante quips, adding that they chose Innerspace instead because no one could come up with a better title. Dante teams with producer Michael Finnell and co-stars McCarthy and Picardo on a commentary track that’s almost as entertaining as the film. Warner Brothers’ marketing people get roasted, as does Martin Short for bowing out of the commentary, and Quaid for refusing. As the camera pans across the laboratory, one of them tells how the extras were all real scientists from a nearby jet-propulsion laboratory. As the memorable bonding scene between Tuck and Jack runs, another remarks, “I can’t believe that we were gonna cut that scene.” And as the camera pulls closer to the heart valve opening and closing like the beak of the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, threatening to swallow up Tuck’s pod and kill them both, one of them laughs, “The heart valve opening and closing? Two guys with sticks pulling as fast as they can!”
Dante and Finnell said that early on they realized that Innerspace was “a good audience movie,” and self-deprecating humor aside, Innerspace holds up better than Fantastic Voyage precisely because they don’t take themselves or what they’re doing too seriously. Yes, the hair is dated and some of the special effects now seem rudimentary, but the laughs are still here, and the action is pure fun. And it’s rated PG. Innerspace is one of the better, older comedy-adventures and a great candidate for family movie night. Unlike Fantastic Voyage, this one seems to get better with age. Right now at Amazon Innerspace is selling for under $10 on Blu-ray, and the price seems “righter” if you consider the repeat play this one is going to get.
Language: No f-bombs, but a few milder d, s, and h words
Sex: Just a “swapping spit” kiss that’s a plot device
Violence: Fighting, some shooting, a body dissolving to skeleton
Adult situations: Drunkenness, assassin stripped to his shorts
Takeaway: Parodies can actually have a life of their own.