Go Go See This Movie
From opening credits in which the Disney castle logo whirs with gears, to a post-film tag where the Gadgetmobile exhorts the audience to go home - just as star Matthew Broderick did at the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Inspector Gadget is an over-the-top romp with more belly laughs than Austin Powers. Plus, you can take your kids to it: though they're likely to miss the references to old James Bond villains, they'll appreciate the "Columbo and Nintendo rolled into one." The effects, the performances, the dialogue, the sight gags are all terrific.
Inspector Gadget sets its tone immediately in the opening sequence, where a runaway bus carrying a group of world-class screamers careens towards a line of obnoxiously cute little girls until a daring rescue saves them. It turns out to be a dream sequence, but the acting's not much different in the "real" scenes which follow when security guard John Brown is awakened by his dog licking his lips.
The characters remain cartoonish, but the performances are more subtle than one might expect. Broderick in particular is charming in the title role - a character we never quite believe in, but certainly sympathize with. After robotic doubles of Brown and heroine Brenda Bradford surface later in the film, we get to see the all-out outrageousness that might have rendered all the characters too silly for sympathy.
A would-be policeman, Brown works in a building housing the laboratory of inventor Artemis Bradford and his scientist daughter Brenda. The pair have just finished developing cybernetic body parts when evil tycoon Scolex breaks into the lab, stealing a robotic foot and murdering the senior Bradford.
Injured in an attempt to apprehend Scolex - who loses a hand in the struggle, and receives a replacement that earns him the moniker "Claw" - Brown is rebuilt using Bradford's inventions, becoming a prototype "Inspector Gadget" for the Riverton police department. Determined to get the technology one way or another, Scolex hires Bradford and sends an evil robotic duplicate Inspector Gadget to terrorize the city.
Broderick's boyish enthusiasm hasn't been so well utilized since his heyday in Ferris Bueller, that famed celebration of adolescent joy. As Brown, his smile seems a little too tight and his earnestness a little too deadly - "Justice will be served!" he intones like a boy scout as pursues a speeding vehicle. But as RoboGadget, he really cuts loose, laughing like a maniac while terrorizing small children with equipment that includes torture devices, military firearms, and kitchen appliances. Rupert Everett's Claw is delightfully villainous, but because we only see him playing one character, he doesn't get to show as much range.
Still, Claw has most of the best lines. When he receives his artificial appendage, he opts for the name "Claw, like Madonna," because the pincer "has a sort of postmodern Captain Hook feel to it." When Gadget's innovations start getting on his nerves, Claw drawls, "I think somebody's been watching too many Saturday morning cartoons." The gorgeous tuxedo and James Bond-style limo complete with Sharper Image add-ons make it more fun to learn that Claw was the school nerd in his youth - and Brenda Bradford says she liked him better fat.
Still, Claw can't animate his cyber-soldiers to sell on the black market without Bradford's neuron synapse amplifier chip. That's the device which makes Inspector Gadget possible, though it takes awhile to get used to being able to shoot toothpaste from one's body and inflate as an airbag, as he learns in several hilarous sequences.
The scene in which the newly converted Inspector Gadget awakens in the hospital is hysterically funny as he tangles himself in his own wires, burns himself with the lighter in his thumb, and nearly shoots himself in the head. "I'm not me anymore! I'm a hardware store!" he complains. Meanwhile, the chief of police believes the inspector is merely a publicity stunt for the Mayor, and wants to see him sold piece by piece at a garage sale.
Aside from Gadget himself, the most memorable character in the film is his car...which offers advice on apprehending criminals, flirts with VW Bugs, and warns the audience not to try his tricks at home. The entire movie is a masterpiece of product placement - Claw and cronies crash into a Yahoo billboard, Gadget's niece guzzles Coke, and the car has an onboard McDonald's and junk food dispensers which lead the car to announce literally, "I got the Skittles kicked out of me!" as candy spills over the front seat.
Many of the laughs are equally cheap but sincere. After RoboGadget terrorizes the city by using spotlights to create Godzilla effects puppet-style with his hands ("This is why I left Tokyo," read the subtitles as a Japanese guy flees), Gadget is forced to battle his doppelganger on top of a bridge. He sprays his enemy with toothpaste and falls into a truck full of shopping carts, leading to a race.
I don't want to give away the end of this noble struggle, so let's just say that it involves pulling the "DO NOT PULL" string on the back of RoboGadget's head. It's easy to get caught up in the physical comedy and overlook the spectacular effects: not only is Broderick dueling against a near-perfect double of himself, he's doing so against the believable backdrop of a crowded bridge over a river near a city. Director David Kellogg creates an excellent balance of visual effects and humor.
The scenes in which Claw kidnaps our heroes by helicopter are spectacular as well, culminating in a couple of long fall sequences overshadowed by jokes involving a cat, and a car that thinks it's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The two Gadgets are funnier together than the two love interests once Claw makes a bimbo model of the scientist for his own use, but everyone does howl when RoboBrenda's cheerleader training backfires and she back-flips off a roof.
Look for some fun cameo casting - Deep Space Nine's Odo, Rene Auberjonois, as the short-lived Artemis Bradford, and a bevy of James Bond villains in a joke scene about villainous minions. The voice of the animated Inspector Gadget also pops up in a funny scene with Brown's dog. Andy Dick unfortunately doesn't get enough to do as Claw's scientist sidekick, but Dabney Coleman is quite funny as the chief of police, and Michelle Trachtenberg turns in a low-key performance as Gadget's niece Penny.
The sexual chemistry between the leads is overshadowed by the cartoonish world in which they live - this is the kind of film where actual fireworks shoot out of Gadget's foot when he kisses Bradford. But it's an attractive cast...even the media-hungry mayor and Claw's slob of an accomplice. If you're taking the kids, be aware that there's a short-lived character death reminiscent of E.T.'s. And there are jokes about being grabbed by the balls. Sports balls. What did you think?