Innerspace (1987)

Rating: C

Dir: Joe Dante
Star: Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan, Kevin McCarthy

There’s not much more to this than a comedic, well-funded update of Fantastic Voyage. Even the original story’s writer Chip Proser admitted it was “basically a rip-off.” The significant twist is that the body into which the miniaturized craft is injected, is not lying unconscious on an operating table: it’s running around San Francisco. This is because the experiment, which sees obnoxious test pilot Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Quaid) piloting the craft, is interrupted by industrial spies, seeking to steal the technology. The chief scientist runs out, bumping into hypochondriac supermarket assistant manager Jack Putter (Short) and injecting him with mini-Pendleton. The spies, working for Victor Scrimshaw (McCarthy) chase down Putter, who has to try and fend them off with the help of Pendleton’s girlfriend, journalist Lydia Maxwell (Ryan).

This is a Steven Spielberg production, with all the good and bad that implies. It’s probably significant that the man himself opted not to direct it, passing it over to Dante. There’s much the same goofy sense of fun as in Dante’s other films, but my tolerance for both Quaid and Short definitely ran out. Part of this is down to its two-hour running time, which is definitely excessive for the flimsy material. Entire sequences, like international agent The Cowboy, going to a disco, serve no purpose at all, beyond light amusement. The best element is the internal body stuff, which has aged very well, and the effects definitely do not feel 35 years old. [Less sure about some of the biology on view!]

It feels as if Quaid is trying to channel Maverick from Top Gun – all smug egocentricity. We first meet Pendleton drunkenly staggering around an official function, and the film never bothers to establish any reason to care for him. Putter, meanwhile, is a nebbish, chronically insecure and packed with neuroses. We’re intended to follow him on an arc that will bring him confidence and charm, through Pendleton’s “inner voice”. I can’t say I was ever convinced by the change, and to be honest, preferred the loser version of Putter. He had a certain charm, and there are spells where Short’s talent for comedy comes through, such as when he gets face-changed into The Cowboy.

However, this does illustrate another flaw in the script: that transformation is an amazing piece of tech, which is used once, without being mentioned either before or after. This is the way the film operates: it feels as if it just throws an idea up there for a bit, then moves on to the next, probably unconnected concept. For instance, the chief evil henchman is missing a hand, and has various attachments for it – a very long set-up, eventually paid off in a questionable vibrator joke. Speaking of which, you also get Ryan being peak eighties Meg Ryan, all perky with that hair. This was the film where she met future husband Quaid. The ten years of marriage she got out of this, certainly exceeded the return for me.