The Best Movie You Never Saw: Innerspace

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at INNERSPACE!

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THE STORY: Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid), a test pilot, volunteers for a miniaturization experiment, where he’s supposed to be injected into a rabbit. When the project is hijacked by the henchmen of an arms dealer (Kevin McCarthy), he finds himself injected into a hypochondriac supermarket clerk (Martin Short), who, along with Tuck’s ex-girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan) only has twenty-four hours to recover the microchip that can restore Pendleton before he runs out of oxygen.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Vernon Wells, Fiona Lewis and Robert Picardo. Written by Jeffrey Boam (LETHAL WEAPON 2, THE LOST BOYS, INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE) and Chip Proser. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Directed by Joe Dante.

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THE HISTORY: I’ve always liked Joe Dante’s movies, especially the ones from his 1980’s heyday, and INNERSPACE is as much of a beloved childhood classic of mine as his much more famous GREMLINS. An Amblin’ Entertainment production, INNERSPACE was one of Warner Bros big movies for the summer of 1987, and apparently the test screenings were off-the-charts, making everyone think this was going to be a giant blockbuster. It didn’t hurt that the three stars, at the time, all seemed on the brink of major stardom. Dennis Quaid had been kicking around for a while, and well-received turns in THE RIGHT STUFF and THE BIG EASY had many thinking he was going to be the next Harrison Ford. Martin Short was just coming off a run on SCTV and “Saturday Night Live” and had THREE AMIGOS under his belt, while Meg Ryan has just popped-up in TOP GUN.

Well, Innerspace, it’s an Amblin picture, which means it’s a Spielberg movie, which puts it in a higher rung of movies. It’s not a B picture, it’s an A picture. But those kind of movies were sort of a trend in the ’80s, they were making family-oriented comedy/special-effects movies. That’s kind of gone by the wayside because, with the rise of CGI and the ability to show people flying around and doing things that were very difficult to present years ago, the movies have become a spectacle business. It’s all about how many cities can you destroy, how many planets can you blow up? - Joe Dante Interview - Paste Magazine 

Yet, when INNERSPACE finally hit theaters, it landed with a thud. On its opening weekend it was beaten by DRAGNET and SPACEBALLS, both of which were playing on fewer screens and were in their second weekend. Articles from the era suggest WB made a mistake marketing the special FX and the Spielberg connection (around the same time other Amblin’ Entertainment movies like HARRY & THE HENDERSONS were flopping) over the likable stars. Sure enough, a revamped ad campaign and good word-of-mouth helped the movie eke out a $25 million gross (not quite covering the budget) and the home video business was brisk. In fact, the VHS release was one of a handful of titles the studios experimented with releasing in letterbox, and my old copy on tape was, if not the full 1:85:1 ratio, at least 1:66:1, which would have looked OK on the much-smaller 4:3 TV’s of the era. In the years since, INNERSPACE has managed a small cult following, but is far more obscure than it should be given how well-crafted a sci-fi/comedy/adventure it is.

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WHY IT'S GREAT: I like how Joe Dante described INNERSPACE, as what would happen if Dean Martin was shrunk and stuck inside of Jerry Lewis’s body. This is the very definition of a “high concept” eighties movie, in an era much less dominated by run-of-the-mill tent pole movies. Sure, sequels were still a thing but, outside of BATMAN in 1989, comic book movies were rare and most franchises were spun off from really creative hooks, such as the one INNERSPACE uses.

It’s a lot like the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE, where a team of scientists are shrunk down and injected into a critically ill patient to perform an emergency surgery. Here, the team is reduced to one man, a roguish Han Solo-type, and it’s given a spy movie twist, with Short our unlikely hero, who has to prevent the secret of miniaturization from getting into the hands of the baddies.

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Truth be told, other than a few revisits here and there I hadn’t thought much about INNERSPACE before JoBlo editor and chief Paul Shirey mentioned on our podcast that his wife had bought him the Jerry Goldsmith score for Christmas. It finally occurred to me that this would be a really good addition to this column, as it’s a movie that I’m relatively sure will be pretty obscure to our younger readers, but one that holds up really well.

It is odd. Because you know, in 1987, they weren’t talking about Innerspace. [Laughs] Because it came out and didn’t make any money. The trajectory of the fame of that movie, and a lot of movies made by directors in the ’80s, were that even when they weren’t successful theatrically, they were big hits on home video. And cassettes being passed from one household to another eventually led to some of these movies that were pretty much considered flops becoming very beloved. And in the minds of many people today, they assume that they were big hits theatrically because they’re so well known today. – Joe Dante Interview - Paste Magazine

Running exactly 120 minutes, it’s a fast-paced romp that manages to mix in a lot of genres without doing any of them in a half-assed way. It’s a comedy, with Short giving the performance of his life as the Walter Mitty-ish here, but it’s also a good thriller jam-packed with hair-raising chases and terrific stunt-work, and dressed up with a cool sci-fi twist. Director Joe Dante was really on a roll in 1987, coming off GREMLINS and EXPLORERS, and he’d follow it up with THE ‘BURBS and the surprisingly experimental and atypical GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (a movie I hated as a kid but love now), MATINEE and a few other good movies before slowing his output and focusing mostly on TV. In his time, Dante was a master of this kind of movie, and it makes me wish someone would give him the same kind of resources he had here to do another fun comedy-adventure, a genre he seems unusually proficient in.

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It helps that that INNERSPACE is impeccably cast. Quaid seems to be having the time of his life as Tuck Pendleton, but with him stuck inside of Short for most of the running time, it’s the latter that dominates. Short never really got his due as a top comedy star. He’s very effective here, able to be wacky and also occasionally heroic. Of them all, the one who really broke out with INNERSPACE is Meg Ryan (she also fell in love with Quaid during filming, with the two reteaming on D.O.A and getting married a few years later). While she’d been around for a few years, INNERSPACE was the first time she was really Meg Ryan and she’s adorably sexy throughout and a considerable heroine in her own right, as a plucky-reporter/love-interest. Man, she would have made a great Lois Lane. The baddies are also great, with Dante fave Kevin McCarthy (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) as the John Huston-like baddie, Fiona Lewis as his sexy henchwoman and THE ROAD WARRIOR/COMMANDO’s Vernon Wells and the one-armed baddie (one joke involving a vibrator went way over my head as a lad).

BEST SCENE: Robert Picardo’s break-out part as the holographic doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager” was still a few years away, but he was already a part of Dante’s unofficial rep company. As the Russian arms dealer baddie, “The Cowboy”, Picardo, thanks to a plot twist, briefly gets to be the leading man in a great bit where Quaid manipulates Short’s features so he can imitate him. Picardo’s so good here, doing a great job affecting the Russian-accent with a Martin Short-lilt to his voice.

SEE IT: INNERSPACE is newly out on Blu-ray and widely available on DVD.

PARTING SHOT: INNERSPACE really is a lost classic from the eighties, boasting a tremendous score, great special FX that hold up, and great performances all-around. This one comes highly recommended and it’s the kind of movie Hollywood just doesn’t make anymore (original, non-sequel big-budget tent poles).

Source: JoBlo.com



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