Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg) is a little girl who adapts easily to changed domestic conditions. After her Uncle John (Matthew Broderick) is blown to pieces by the evil Scolex, aka Claw (Rupert Everett), he returns home as the robotic Inspector Gadget.
Penny doesn't even register surprise, let alone hurt. She's happy, because not only can her guardian launch all manner of projectiles, liquids and handy appliances from his artificially reconstructed body, he is actually a much bolder, more emotive guy. To sweeten the situation still further, he also has a talking car.
Few films skate past scenes of violence, surgery and even death more breezily than the astonishing Inspector Gadget. Based on a popular television animation of the '80s, this is a truly cartoonish movie at every level. It is fast, unreal and utterly infectious.
My interest was piqued by the opening scene – an evident homage to the prologue of Jerry Lewis' The Ladies' Man (1961). But where Jerry, in a pastel-coloured, Disneyesque main street, presided over total catastrophe, our Inspector, in a near identical setting, manages to miraculously save everybody and everything.
This is only the first in a series of superb burlesque gags. It also cues a riot of savvy homages – not only to The Simpsons and other contemporary sources, but, more importantly, a royal lineage of pop surrealists from Tex Avery (Red Hot Riding Hood, 1948) to Joe Dante (Gremlins, 1984) via Frank Tashlin (The Disorderly Orderly, 1964).
Even when the jokes are not so inspired, the method of intercutting between at least three separate story threads at all times ensures maximum pace and comic hysteria. Director David Kellogg – who skilfully integrates the elaborate special effects into the overall style and design of the piece – is obviously a talent to watch.
Judging by this film and Pokémon (1998) – not to mention Being John Malkovich (1999) – cloning is all the rage in modern cinema. Broderick is fine as the do-gooder Gadget, but he is even better as the evil RoboGadget, wreaking a level of urban devastation of which Tyler Durden from Fight Club (1999) would be proud.
Joely Fisher displays a fine screwball touch as Brenda (and also RoboBrenda). Everett gives a new meaning to Camp as he contorts his accent and facial muscles more extremely in each new scene.
Inspector Gadget was a delightful surprise to this reviewer. I am forever awaiting a sequel.
MORE childlike comedy: Mr Accident
© Adrian Martin December 1999