#TBT Reviews: Innerspace (1987)

This film is available to stream via Netflix US as of the time of publishing.

I can just imagine being in on the pitch meeting for the 1987 comedy Innerspace. Picture it…a comedic action adventure film in which a bad ass fighter pilot is miniaturized and accidentally injected into the bloodstream of a nobody grocery store clerk.  Throw in a romantic love triangle and a plot by bad guys to steal the miniaturization technology for evil purposes, and it’s a sure hit, right? While Innerspace did not prove to be the runaway summer hit the studio thought it would be, it’s a fun romp that’s worth revisiting as the film celebrates its thirtieth birthday.

 

The film stars Dennis Quaid in one of his early leading man roles.  He plays Lt. Tuck Pendleton, a cocky but somewhat immature guy with commitment issues.  Meg Ryan plays his love interest, Lydia, who is also a reporter.  In fact, the actors met for the first time on the set of this film, and were married in 1991.  The duo went on to co-star in D.O.A. in 1988, and Flesh and Bone in 1993.  Though Quaid may have been the heartthrob, it’s Martin Short who truly drives Innerspace. Short plays Jack Putter, a hypochondriac who lives alone in a studio apartment, and seems to lack any direction in life.  But that all changes on a fateful day when he happens to be injected with a syringe containing the mini-Tuck.  The story, more than anything, is a tale of Jack’s transformation from self-doubting, insecure grocery clerk to brave hero.

It’s important to keep in mind the film was made 30 years ago, so the visual effects are not stunning.  However, director Joe Dante does a nice job of keeping things simple, so the film seems a bit less dated than some other 80s fare.  Quaid’s Tuck spends the majority of the film sitting in the cockpit of his miniaturized vessel, which limits his role a bit.  However, this allows Short to showcase what he does best, which is to fill the screen with his physical humor.  Short has the opportunity to run with his trademark comedic style, and it’s his energy that powers the film.

 

It’s not just Short’s comedic timing that serves him well, either.  He also does a nice job of creating a character who evolves.  With the help of Tuck, who serves as a life coach of sorts, or perhaps a puppet-master, Jack gains confidence.  He transforms from a wimp to a man’s man, which is rife with gender stereotypes, yet Martin Short brings a tenderness to the character.  Meanwhile, Tuck transforms, as well.  He learns the importance of commitment and stability, which helps him tone down his alpha male tendencies a bit.

Yes, the plot reaches beyond the suspension of disbelief, and yes, the some of the score and fashion choices date the film.  But it retains its wacky spirit and charm.  The acting is fairly solid, with Robert Picardo turning in a solid performance as “the Cowboy,” and the late Kevin McCarthy is good as the tech smuggler Victor Scrimshaw.

 

This isn’t Joe Dante’s most impressive directorial work (I’d vote that Gremlins from1984 was probably his best film), but it’s also not his worst (umm…Piranha, 1978). Dante does a nice job of creating a love triangle between Tuck, Lydia and Jack, which is tough to accomplish when one of the three is microscopic and careening through the other man’s bloodstream throughout the film.  This is not Citizen Kane, by any means.  But I’d recommend giving Innerspace a shot if you’re looking for a fun, mindless film to kill some time on the weekend.

 

7/10

Patty Williamson

I teach media-related stuff at Central Michigan University, and have been ruining film for students for nearly 20 years.

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