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Thursday, July 30, 2015

INNERSPACE -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle



If you've ever seen FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966), you know that piloting a tiny miniaturized submarine around inside a human body is serious business. Surprisingly, though, there can be a funny side to the whole thing as well, which director Joe Dante (GREMLINS, THE HOWLING) explores in his frenetic 1987 sci-fi comedy INNERSPACE.

It's not a raucous laugh riot exactly, and I only guffawed out loud a few times, but darn if it isn't just a lot of fun to watch. This is mainly because of a well-balanced blend of sci-fi action and excitement with the wild, improvisatory comedy stylings of funnyman Martin Short, he of the classic run of "SCTV" episodes on NBC-TV and Cinemax back in the 80s. (Two of his fellow SCTV alums, Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin, have a welcome cameo in one early scene.)

The story begins with military burn-out Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) messing up his relationships with both Uncle Sam and girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan during an especially cute phase in her life) in two fell swoops. Quaid is like a burn-out version of his cocky test pilot character in THE RIGHT STUFF, down on his luck and needing something drastic--like volunteering for a highly dangerous experimental project--to un-wreck his military career.


The project turns out to involve shrinking him and his tiny one-man sub to microscopic size and injecting him into the bloodstream a live rabbit, which seems entirely reasonable to Tuck until--following a cool shrinking sequence--the experiment is interrupted by a gang of industrial thieves which include sexy mean lady Fiona Lewis (DEAD KIDS, THE FURY) and Vernon Wells, the guy who played "Wez" in THE ROAD WARRIOR and is here a nattily-dressed hit man with a robot gun-hand (literally) and a sweet tooth for killin' folks.

Long story short, microscopic Tuck gets injected not into the rabbit but into the left butt cheek of neurotic Safeway checkout clerk Jack Putter (Martin Short), who's already so nervous that he's under doctor's orders to take a long, unexciting vacation. Suddenly, however, he's got a tiny guy named Tuck zipping around in his bloodstream and some very bad and violent people coming after him at every turn.

The result, as you might guess, is a succession of suspenseful chases, furious fights, and other close calls, with Tuck serving as Jack's "inner voice" and directing his actions while at the same time having his own difficulties navigating through Jack's overstimulated circulatory system and, in one scene, dangling precipitously over an ocean of roiling stomach acids.


Of course we all know that during the course of this high-spirited adventure Tuck will perform valiantly and get his old "mojo" back, and that Short's nerdly character will come through it all a hero as well and maybe even win over his fellow Safeway employee Wendy (Wendy Schaal) for whom he has the unrequited hots. And also that Tuck will get back together with Lydia after she helps him and Jack defeat the bad guys.

Unless, that is, you think there's a chance that they'll all get killed and the bad guys will win, and that INNERSPACE will have one of those horrible downer endings like THE PARALLAX VIEW or EDEN LAKE or something, in which case I guess it will be even more suspenseful for you because you really won't know what's going to happen next, so I guess that's okay.

At any rate, there are two levels of action here--what's going on with Quaid in "innerspace", and how nebbishy Short is handling his sudden plunge into danger and intrigue in the regular-sized world. Both are exciting enough while maintaining the right amount of comedy, especially with Short's seemingly limitless skills in that area. This is true even though he's downplaying much of his usual manic intensity here in order to keep his "normal guy" character on a semi-believable level. (Although he does get to do something resembling his celebrated "Ed Grimley" dance.)


Short, as many of us know, ushered in SCTV's greatest era as a comedy troup with his awesome (and woefully underappreciated) talents, and probably did much the same for SNL except I had stopped watching the show by that time. (The one-two punch of Joe Piscopo and Billy Crystal sorta killed it for me.) Given a good opportunity to do his magic, Short is a brilliant comic performer and proves it here yet again.

Visually, INNERSPACE is a wonderfully nostalgic look at how SPFX artists used to handle stuff like this before they could simply whip it all up digitally. Which means, for me, that all the shots of Quaid's craft zipping through Short's internal organs and circulatory system look way more interesting than they would if this were a CGI fest. Credit for this belongs, for the most part, to such familiar names as Dennis Muren, Rob Bottin, and the gang at Industrial Light and Magic.

Further nostalgia comes from a wonderful cast filled with B-movie greats, cult stars, and other recognizable faces that may have some viewers agog the whole time. Kenneth Tobey has a funny line during a men's room scene with Short. Rance Howard and Looney Tunes superstar Chuck Jones are in the periphery during a tense scene in Safeway between Short and the legendary Kathleen Freeman. Dick Miller, William Schallert, Orson Bean, Henry Gibson, Kevin Hooks, and Archie Hahn also turn up here and there.


In more substantial roles are Robert Picardo (THE HOWLING, "Star Trek: Voyager") as international stolen goods dealer "The Cowboy" and beloved INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS star Kevin McCarthy in a hilarious turn as Victor Eugene Scrimshaw, the eccentric millionaire who wants the secret of the shrinking machine for himself.

The Blu-ray from Warner Home Video is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 English audio and 2.0 French and Spanish audio. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish. Extras consist of a trailer and an entertaining commentary track with director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, costars Kevin McCarthy and Robert Picardo and visual FX supervisor Dennis Muren.

INNERSPACE is that rare sci-fi comedy where both the comedy and the sci-fi are well-served. It's also the ultimate "buddy" flick. But mainly, it's a case of director Joe Dante and his marvelous cast seemingly having a ball making a movie, and it's infectious.

Buy it at the WBShop.com
Street date: Aug. 4, 2015
Stills used are not taken from Blu-ray


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