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Rating 3

Inspector Gadget

July 22, 1999
by Dan Lybarger
Originally appeared in Pitch Weekly. ........................................................................................................

The opening frames of Inspector Gadget are a frighteningly accurate metaphor for the rest of the film: A computer-generated Disney logo explodes in a mess of gears. The film has enough hardware and effects for three flicks but lacks enough story or characters to make one.

Awkwardly, moving the television cartoon to live action, a total of four credited writers attempt to tell the story of John Brown (Matthew Broderick), a lowly security guard who longs to be a cop. He’s eager to prove his heroism to the pretty scientist Brenda (Joely Fisher), whose facility he secures. When John is badly injured trying to capture the people who robbed the building and killed Brenda’s father, she “heals” him by installing a variety of devices that John can call up on command.

John wakes up in the hospital barely able to move and with a body that has bizarre appendages (like a cigarette lighter finger) that appear without warning. He has even more difficulty because he fails to read the gargantuan manual that Brenda has written for him. Still, he’s going to need all of the tools at his disposal because he has to stop the evil billionaire Sanford Scolex, a k a Claw (Rupert Everett). Claw is trying to build an army of robotic assassins, starting with an evil replicant of John.

Matthew Broderick and Joely Fisher in Inspector Gadget

Matthew Broderick and Joely Fisher in Inspector Gadget.
1999 Walt Disney Pictures, used by permission.

This setup could have been entertaining, or at least it was in the original Robocop. On a technical level, the movie almost works. The combination of animatronic devices from veteran wizard Stan Winston (the Jurassic Park movies) and enough computer-generated images to fill dozens of hard drives makes for some convincing and occasionally impressive effects. For a couple of seconds, it is kind of fun seeing Broderick sprouting up on metal stilts.

Unfortunately, the script lacks such expertise. It’s obvious that there were many chefs working on the movie because Broderick’s character is never firmly established. It’s difficult to determine if he’s stupid, brave, smart or just plain goofy. Such ambiguity is great for a European art film but is useless in a movie allegedly aimed at kids. There is also a needless crotch joke, and one wonders if the cartoonish violence might rub off on the tots who watch. Worse, the movie is loaded with dozens of unamusing inside jokes. For example, Dabney Coleman (Nine to Five) quips that the bandaged Broderick looks like “the English Patient.” It is hard to imagine a six-year-old who would get the reference to an R-rated movie. Come to think of it, the joke isn’t even funny.

Inspector Gadget also achieves a new low because it features some of the most blatant product placement in screen history. Gadget’s talking car whines that he’s gotten the Skittles kicked out of him, and he has tons of the candy filling the front seat. There is also an annoying reference to a Yahoo! billboard. (What sort of dreadful tie-in awaits consumers?) There are also dozens of needless references to the studio who made the movie. Those looking for a decent movie for their kids to watch should see Disney’s Tarzan instead. Inspector Gadget requires a factory recall. (PG)

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