by A.J. Hakari
Innerspace goes to show you just how far the humble B-movie has come. Although director Joe Dante’s 1987 adventure took its cues from the well-regarded Fantastic Voyage, I doubt it would’ve received the financial assistance and quality writing it was afforded, had it come out a couple decades earlier. Films of its ilk were meant to fill seats as glorified light shows back in the day, so we’re fortunate to have had a good run of hits since then that proved science fiction could combine pure spectacle with out-there storylines and still be really damn fun. Innerspace is one of these titles, a well-rounded and very entertaining experience that, like Dante’s own Gremlins, knows when to be light, knows when to be dark, and knows when to be batshit insane.
While his drunken antics may indicate otherwise, test pilot Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) is just the man needed to take part in science’s next great advance. A government lab has cracked the secret of miniaturization, and ol’ Tuck gets to play guinea pig, assigned to explore a rabbit from the inside via a submersible pod. But the experiment is barely underway before baddies raid the lab, forcing a scientist to take drastic measures and inject Tuck into twitchy Safeway clerk Jack Putter (Martin Short) for his own safety. With evil flunkies in hot pursuit and his oxygen supplies depleting, Tuck will have to work with Jack from within his own body, fighting time and the occasional spazz-out to get him back to his normal size.
A few weeks ago, The Watch debuted in theaters as a sterling example of how not to make a sci-fi comedy. It might as well have not even had aliens to begin with; the actors were set on their usual schtick, and any little green men were present solely for Vince Vaughn to hump. In movies like this, the humor works best when the characters respond in tandem with the weird situations they’re facing, which is where Innerspace gains the upper hand. When Martin Short plays Sir Mugs-a-Lot, it’s not just because he’s Martin Short, and that’s what he does; it’s because he’s a nervous dude coming to terms with the fact that the Enemy Mine guy is tooling around his thorax. Both Jack and Tuck are in spots they didn’t expect to be in, so as they press the plot onward in search of the MacGuffin du jour, all their amusing missteps feel natural and not just like the movie’s aimlessly fishing for yuks.
But laughs are just one aspect of Innerspace‘s plate, which Dante manages to keep full but surprisingly balanced. It’s funny to see Short spaz out, but those scenes in which Quaid’s character cruises around his body still inspire a smidge of wonder amidst the comedic chaos (a testament to how spot-on the visual effects are, too). Innerspace also comes equipped with Dante’s patented cinematic lunacy, dealt out here in easy-to-swallow doses that grow more and more loony as the film progresses. Once we’ve accepted the initial premise, that’s when Dante starts to pull back the curtain on half-naked cowboys, three-foot villains, and a final battle in which stomach acid is used to deal a decisive blow. Innerspace reaches some offbeat heights, but it earns the right to go there, thanks to how much it respects its characters, how it has fun with them but treats them as more than props in some goofball story.
When it’s focused on getting Short to be less of a nerd and reuniting Quaid with reporter girlfriend Meg Ryan, Innerspace can admittedly feel a little flat and predictable. But corny as these subplots are, they go a long way in helping balance out the zaniness and blessing the high-concept plot with a touch of weight. Innerspace may not share the same cult love as some of Joe Dante’s other pictures, but it’s still a loopy treat from a director who never made a common blockbuster in his life.