Innerspace (1987)

25 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Innerspace” is a movie full of ideas—perhaps too many ideas that don’t work entirely. But still, there are enough intriguingly silly ideas that are executed well and acted with enough game that I’m recommending the movie as absurd fun.

It’s a blend of science fiction, comedy, thriller, action, and romance that begins with a crazy idea: test pilot Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) has volunteered for a secret government experiment that involves a miniaturization device and a capsule suited for it. The experiment would cause surgeons to operate on patients from inside them. To test it out, Tuck is supposed to be miniaturized to about the size of a molecule (by estimation, at least) so that he’ll be injected into the bloodstream of a lab rabbit.

It works, and Tuck (and the capsule) is placed inside a syringe. But there’s a problem—high-tech thieves send their hit men to break in and steal the technology from the experiment. One of the scientists run off with the syringe holding Tuck and as he’s shot and killed by one of the hit men, he uses his final action to inject Tuck and the capsule into a random passerby—a grocery clerk named Jack Putter (Martin Short). As we see in introductory scenes, Jack is nervous enough. How’s he going to take the news that someone is inside him?

Tuck wades through Jack’s bloodstream and discovers soon enough that he’s inside a stranger. He uses a little gizmo to stick to one of Jack’s eyes in order to see from a screen inside the capsule exactly what Jack sees, and he also uses a communications system to talk to Jack from inside. Jack at first thinks he’s hearing things—“I’m possessed!” Jack exclaims—but eventually comes to grips with the situation and decides to help Tuck out.

If you’re following this, you’re a smart reader. But believe me—things get even stranger.

That’s mostly what’s part of the fun. There’s a limit to how long Tuck can stay inside the capsule before his oxygen runs out; the villains get closer and closer, and must be outwitted each time; the villain’s new hit man enters into the scene—a bizarre character named The Cowboy (Robert Picardo); and soon, Tuck’s former girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan) gets involved.

Oh, but that’s not all. Jack develops a crush on Lydia and constantly forgets that Tuck—Lydia’s former boyfriend—is still around, much closer than he thinks, to say the least.

The plot goes all over the place in “Innerspace.” Most of it is fun, and directed with a sense of silly amusement by Joe Dante (director of “Gremlins”), but you kind of wonder what would happen if the editing was tighter (the movie’s running time is 120 minutes). And there are a few holes that are kind of hard to overlook—there’s a “face-change” that is difficult to explain, and Tuck is as small as the molecules in the liquor that Jack drinks for him but it doesn’t look or seem that way. At the same time, there’s a lot to like in “Innerspace.” Not just the chances the story takes, but also the special effects and the acting.

There are many wonderful visual scenes in which Tuck travels through Jack’s bloodstream. It looks remarkable and surprisingly realistic. The computer-animated effects here are definite first-rate. Though, I would’ve liked to see Tuck fight some white-blood cells or antibodies. No such luck here, but he does eventually have to fight off a hit man who’s been miniaturized and place inside the body to get to him. Oh, and there’s also a sequence involving the heart that’s probably the best sequence in the movie. It looks realistic, as the effects involving Tuck’s capsule were combined with actual footage of a beating heart. “That’s a hell of a pump you got there,” Tuck tells Jack.

Dennis Quaid’s character of Tuck could’ve been a bore, as he spends most of his time confined to the capsule. But with his personality and constant one-liners, it feels like he’s still here. Quaid plays a hero who can’t move while Martin Short plays a nerd who wasn’t expected to be the hero. Quaid and Short have nice moments in developing their friendship.

Martin Short, the manic “SNL” alum, is wonderful in this movie. He’s extremely likable, very funny without being too manic, and is fun to watch throughout this movie. It’s hard not to like this guy.

The love story in “Innerspace” is surprisingly nicely done, and Meg Ryan makes a fun, plucky woman put into the confusion of everything. How would she handle the news that her old boyfriend is inside this nerdy guy she’s just met?

“Innerspace” is completely ambitious. It may have worn me out, and the scenes with the thieves aren’t as interesting as the relationships between Tuck, Jack, and Lydia (with the exception of the Cowboy’s scenes, which are manic), but it still provided a good time for me with its intriguing special effects, good acting, and constant use of story twists.

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