Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
As with all of his films, Joe Dante's most engaging comedy, stems from a love of fantasy films, science
fiction, and of course, Warner cartoons. Coming just before the end of conventional optical special
effects, Innerspace, as described in the extremely entertaining and informative commentary track,
is like a Jerry Lewis - Dean Martin movie, if you shrunk Dino to the size of a germ and injected him into
Jerry's bloodstream. The main difference is, this is funnier than any Martin-Lewis picture.
Troublemaking Astronaut Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) is the volunteer for a
remarkable experiment. He's to be miniaturized, along with a mini-submarine, and injected into the bloodstream
of a rabbit. Unfortunately, spies try to seize the secret, and Tuck is hypo'ed into the reluctant
rear of hypochondriac supermarket cashier Jack Putter (Martin Short). Tuck starts communicating with Jack from inside,
and Jack thinks he's going crazy. With the spies still in hot pursuit, Tuck has to talk Jack into
becoming a sci-fi secret agent, to set things right and get Tuck out in time to be reunited with
his fiancee, Lydia Maxwell (Meg Ryan).
It didn't sound very promising at first: Fantastic Voyage (1966) was this very glossy,
thoroughly-hyped Fox film that all of us Junior High School kids thought was sophisticated, until we
grew up. When Hollywood revisits old material like this, it's usually in the form of clunky remakes
that miss the whole point of the original, like
The Blob, or Invaders from Mars. At
their worst, they can hopelessly befoul what were originally wonderful movies, as with The Time
Dante and writers Jeffrey Boam & Chip Proser reinvent Fantastic Voyage as a wacky chase comedy.
Dennis Quaid spends about 9/10ths of the film all by himself in the tiny
submarine, floating inside the perfectly cast comedian Martin Short. It's a standout role
that encourages Short to retain audience allegiance no matter how silly he behaves. Jack Putter is a
put-upon everyman, a neurotic schlemiel
who's helpless in a crunch and hopeless with the women in his life, namely, the amusing Wendy Schaal.
If the fantasy concept wasn't so strong, you'd think the whole show was an excuse for Short's comedy bits,
like the ridiculous dance he does. It should come off as gratuitous mugging, but isn't, due to Short's
charm and lack of pretension. This is indeed a Jerry Lewis role, but done well.
Joe Dante excels at telling old stories with a quirky eccentricity, as in The 'burbs. He can
also make gleeful cynicism work
(Gremlins) and is one of the few filmmakers in the 80's to get seriously sentimental with teenaged
characters, in Explorers, and the later Matinee. Such a technically complicated story as
Innerspace has to be told in a straightforward manner, and the setup with Randy Quaid and the
miniaturization project takes a while to get going. Tuck Pendleton's apartment with its robots and
Warner cartoon toys is rather lazy, but the fresh smile of his girlfriend, charmer Meg Ryan, tides us
Once Quaid is inside Short, Dante's storytelling skills get a workout as he establishes the ground
rules for his premise. Quaid expects to be tooling around inside the bloodstream of a rabbit (according
to the hilarious roadmap graphic on his control panel) and every part of their 'symbiotic'
relationship has to be explained: he taps into Short's inner ear to be able to hear what Short hears, and
finds he can talk to him. This results in a good gag where Short thinks he's possessed - only to have
patient doctor William Schallert assure him that infernal demons talk through the people they
possess, not to them. Quaid also clamps a video receiver onto the optic nerve, and Short's
pantomimed reaction to the sudden pain behind his eye is fall-down funny.
The complicated spy chase is mined for every bit of comedy
potential. Kevin McCarthy and Fiona Lewis are a looney pair of ridiculous mad doctors, aided by stoic
Vernon Wells and Mid-Eastern 'cowboy' Robert Picardo. Nobody assembles a fun cast as well as Joe Dante,
and from the bits on up, he utilizes people from his favorite old monster movies along with more
contemporary faces that comprise his stock company: Dick Miller, Orson Bean, Archie Hahn, Henry Gibson,
Kennety Tobey, the late, wonderful Kathleen Freeman, Joe Flaherty and Andrea Miller. Frequent Dante DP
John Hora does very well with the
straight-man role of a scientist. Robert Picardo is of course a standout, making an unpromising-sounding
character into a riot. In one particularly gratuitous but very successful gag, some excuse is made
to make Short look just like Picardo's cowboy character, and for a few minutes, Picardo is playing
the Martin Short role. Dante keeps the screwball antics at a high pitch.
Critics who had less than ecstatic responses to Innerspace cited its running time, which is a
bit long for a comedy. The movie's so tightly packed with incident, that to shorten it something major
would have to go. I'm glad they didn't - Dante's recent Small Soldiers shows signs of
compromise both in content and cutting, which doesn't augur well for his special kind of moviemaking.
Innerspace does have kind of a sloppy end scene, that needed to calm down - but opts instead for
Short quitting his crummy job and rushing off to save Quaid and Ryan again, as a newly-born 'action man'.
Unlike the surprises elsewhere, this seems rather flat, and since it makes the last impression, may have
unfairly influenced the reviews.
Warner's DVD of Innerspace is a terrific 16:9 transfer that greatly improves on the already
nice-looking laserdisc. The clever ILM special effects for the interior of the body are rich with detail,
even in dark shots. ILM foundation brick Dennis Muren was one of four Oscar winners for effects
on the movie, and participates in the disc's commentary track.
Joe Dante, who's always a
funny host, guides the track with producer Michael Finnell, and actors Kevin McCarthy and Robert
Picardo. It's a great mix. Finnell and Dante have no problem digging equally into big ideas and
details (nobody could think up a better title; Steven Spielberg got involved in the
casting) and provide a constant flow of humor. They
also point out dozens of in-gags that might slip by, like Dante's hero Chuck Jones as a supermarket
patron, and a Body Snatchers seed-pod in Kevin McCarthy's greenhouse-like meeting room.
When McCarthy joins in the commentary, he's a little slower in the joke department, but delighted
to be there. Picardo arrives along with his character onscreen, and he's hilarious, talking about the
ridiculous costume and the lengths he had to go to to make the Cowboy work as a character. He even
slips in a sly joke about Star Trek: the Next Generation. The straight man of the piece is
Dennis Muren, who starts off as the butt of jokes - "Oh look Dennis - is that another Fat Cell?"
Muren deadpans his way through the effects explanations sounding like an ILM corporate spokesman, but by
the end manages a couple of clever remarks of his own.
The soundtrack is particularly well-mixed, with all of the director's favorite Looney Tunes sound effects
brightly billboarded. Innerspace is a fine Dante picture. It's to be joined soon on DVD by special
editions of Gremlins, and Gremlins Two.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: commentary, trailer
Packaging: Warner retro snapper case
Reviewed: July 11, 2002
1. This was one of Meg's more attention-getting early roles; Savant
doesn't follow the gossip stuff very closely, but I believe Innerspace is known as the show on which
actors Ryan and Quaid got together as a couple.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2002 Glenn Erickson
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