Innerspace: Revisted

Innerspace revisited. In this series I re-watch a movie I haven’t seen in a long time to look at it with new eyes, and (hopefully) more experience. This time I revisit Innerspace.

I watched Innerspace when I was a kid and remember enjoying it. But my memory of it is so hazy I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for years.

Innerspace is about a washed up, drunken fighter pilot named Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) who participates in an experiment to shrink a submersible down to microscopic size (with Tuck in it). During the initial test, the lab is attacked by an organization who intends to steal the technology. The lead researcher escapes with the microscopic Tuck, and to protect him, injects Tuck into Jack Putter (Martin Short) a hypochondriac grocery clerk with cripplingly low self-confidence. Because Tuck’s initial test was meant to be brief, he only has twenty-four hours worth of air and the movie is a race for Tuck and Jack to work together to get Tuck back to normal size while avoiding the evil organization who is pursuing them.

The submersible has all this impressive technology, like the ability to automatically map the body’s pathways, sense location, emit electromagnetic pules and connect devices to the optic nerve and ear drums to see and hear what the subject sees and hears. What did these scientists intend to do with this technology? We never find out. I think the technology is really just a premise so we can get a movie with scenes like this:

Apparently Innerspace was originally written as a spy movie, but was re-written as a comedy when the film acquired director Joe Dante. The film still has elements of both genres, but it is a comedy first. Re-watching it revealed a lot of interesting an unexpected elements.

Here are six things I noticed when I revisited Innerspace.

1. The Gassing Scene

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I suppose I have to give a lot of leeway to comedy that wants to shrink a man to inject him in a rabbit. But this is probably the one of the most PG things I’ve ever seen.

During the initial test to shrink Tuck down to size, an evil organization sends a crew of armed men to steal the shrinking technology. What are they armed with? Gas cans. Gas cans that spritz gas in your face and cause you to instantly pass out.

They knock out everyone in the lab in seconds.

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Don’t worry, they’re all OK. *pssshhh-pssshhh* *pssshhh*

 

2. Tension works well

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There’s a scene where the evil organization sends a henchman to Jack’s apartment to try and kidnap him. During the scene, Tuck is inside the shrunken submersible which is situated in Jack’s bloodstream. Jack knocks the henchman out and must escape. This makes Jack panic and causes his blood to pump faster, which in turn creates a dangerous situation for Tuck as he gets pulled towards the heart (where it is implied if he enters the heart, the submersible will be destroyed and Tuck will die).

It’s a very clever scene that manages to create tension for both protagonists at the same time, which doesn’t happen too often throughout the film. The movie is more focused on comedy; tension is secondary.

 

3. Layers of Comedy

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Innerspace is first and foremost interested in having a good time. But watching it again I was impressed by how many different levels of comedy the film attempted.

There’s the obvious Martin Short style comedy, which is a mixture of a gentle man and neurotic screaming.

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There’s “funny faces” comedy.

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There’s a lot of amusing lines.

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There’s also abstract humour. The leader of the evil rival organization makes a call to one of his subordinates from this warehouse. When the scene begins, the camera is closer to him and we think he’s in an all pink room. When the call ends, the camera moves away and we see he’s just in the corner of a pink warehouse. There’s no reason to have a warehouse like this; it’s simply an effort by the filmmakers to add unexpected comedy to an otherwise cliched scene.

There’s some unintentional humour as well. There’s this one scene where Jack is posing as the evil investor Cowboy (Robert Picardo). Thanks to some magical nerve stimulation from Tuck, Jack is able to use Cowboy’s face. Mid-meeting, however, the villain begins to suspect Jack is an imposter and Jack starts to panic.

The joke here is supposed to be Jack’s funny faces and the villains looking on and screaming, “God in heaven, deliver us from Satan,” but what really struck me as being funny was the change in attitude. When the villains suspect Cowboy / Jack is an imposter they are are the ones in power, they are imposing and threatening. When Jack starts to freak out they are apologetic and start begging him to stop whatever it is he’s doing. Which is a little odd because they already assume something is wrong with him.

 

4. Effective Bad Guy

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Because of the spy element of the script, Innerspace has a Bond-esque villain in the form of Mr. Igoe (Vernon Wells). He is the one who chases down and kills the scientist who escapes the lab. During the chase, we see Mr. Igoe point his finger and seemingly shoot the scientist. It is later revealed he has a ROBOT HAND, which was so awesome I immediately recalled what I liked about the film as a kid.

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Mr. Igoe is almost Terminator-like. When he captures Jack in a mall, he discovers his car being towed, so he simply takes a refrigerated truck that happens to be on the loading dock. He throws Jack in the back of the truck and drives away, unhindered by the problem. He seems remorseless and emotionless. He simply pursues his target quietly and tirelessly.

Also, does he have a vibrator dildo extension he can put on his hand? Is that what this scene is implying?

Because I can’t think of a reason for something like that.

 

5. A Sad Love Story for Jack

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There’s a duel-sided love story in Innerspace.

At the start of the movie, Lydia (Meg Ryan) is Tuck’s girlfriend. We meet her escorting Tuck home after yet another night where Tuck has gotten drunk and embarrassed himself. Despite Tuck’s failings, Lydia seems to still love Tuck, almost like she’s in an unbreakable trance. We see her swoon as Tuck uses their song to convince her to spend the night with him. In the morning, Lydia leaves and makes it clear she is leaving for good.

When Tuck is implanted inside Jack, Tuck encourages Jack to get Lydia’s help. In the process, Jack ends up falling for Lydia, and (somehow) Lydia falls a little for Jack.

Jack and Lydia have a confusing relationship. They first kiss when she finds Jack dressed in Tuck’s clothes. They kiss a few more times after that, but how deep their relationship goes is open to interpretation. One possibility is that Tuck’s pull on Lydia is so strong that even when he’s microscopic and inside another man, he still manages to attract Lydia. But at other times Lydia seems to be kissing Jack specifically. Is Jack is sensitive in a way that Tuck isn’t, which interests Lydia? This isn’t made clear either.

I’m probably thinking too far into it and Lydia is likely just there for a convenient romance plot. But there’s a moment at the end of the movie where Tuck and Lydia get married. Jack is the best man. Lydia kisses Jack on the lips before they take off with cruise tickets Jack gives them as a wedding gift (two years worth of savings, he says). Observe the look on his face:

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Despite everything, Jack is still deeply interested in Lydia. He may even have given them the cruise tickets just so she could have the honeymoon she deserves.

And that’s an oddly heavy note to put in such a comedic film.

 

6. A Story About Alcoholic Triumph

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When we first meet Tuck he is drunk and embarrassing himself publicly. He and Lydia are attending a small military celebration for pilots. It becomes clear from Tuck’s jealous drunken ranting that the booze has kept him from achieving success despite his piloting talent. After Lydia manages to get him home he attempts to drink more.

Tuck has a drinking problem.

Immediately I assumed this would be a movie where Tuck changes who he is, overcomes the drink, and is able to put his life back together. But it isn’t. While Jack ends up marrying Lydia, we are given no indication that he’s quit drinking, nor have we been shown that he has become more responsible.

Then there’s Jack. Jack is a hypochondriac, a compulsive worry-wart, and a coward. He is so afraid of everything that he has allowed fear to consume his life. He spends a lot of his time in the doctor’s office, thinking something is wrong with him. People around him treat him like a wounded child. Similar to Tuck, I expected by the end of the movie Jack to abandon his fears and become more self confident.

This is precisely what happens. Jack announces at the end of the movie that he’s cured, and abandons his old life.

Innerspace implies that by having a more confident man inside Jack (as well as being forced to defend himself and others) that Jack absorbs Tuck’s confidence. Likewise, it subtly implies that what was wrong with Tuck didn’t need fixing.

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When the duo first learn that Tuck only has twenty-four hours worth of air, Tuck directs them to his home and they both get drunk. While drinking and dancing Tuck tells Jack, “When things are at their darkest, pal, it’s a brave man that can kick back and party.”

Now I understand that attitudes towards drinking have drastically changed over the years. My parents told me they used to say this about drinking and driving: “It’s a good thing I’m driving because I’m too drunk to walk.” I also understand that Innerspace is wholeheartedly focused on having a good time and doesn’t take itself seriously. But it’s still a little surprising that there’s an underlying message that says, “Hey, loser! Why don’t you loosen up and have a drink.”

One Comment
  1. Reply automaton November 22, 2016 at 5:37 am

    I never knew the name of this movie until now. I remember it, from when I watched it as a child and loved it.

    I really need to re-watch it. Thanks for reminding me that it exists.

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