November 28, 2012

Remember Fantastic Voyage? It’s the semi-legendary ’60s film in which a seacraft was miniaturized and injected into the bloodstream of a human being. The movie featured that immortal scene in which Raquel Welch strayed outside the capsule and was attacked by phagocytes. At which point her lucky crewmates got to peel the sticky things from her skin-tight bodysuit.

See? You do remember. That poker-faced film became a camp classic almost immediately; now Innerspace comes along to play the premise for out-and-out laughs.

The basic concept is, shall we way, in a similar vein. This time the capsule contains only one man, a daredevil pilot (Dennis Quaid). The miniaturization experiment is supposed to put him inside the body of a rabbit. Instead, he’s injected via hypodermic needle into the body of a part-time grocery store clerk and full-time nerd (Martin Short).

How this happens is, well, complicated. There’s a scheme that involves a madman (Kevin McCarthy) who wants the secret of miniaturization so he can—dare we say it?—rule the world. Eventually, he’ll mainline his own quasi-bionic hit man (Vernon Wells) into Short’s bloodstream to do battle with the little Quaid.

Like Fantastic Voyage, there’s a time limit on Quaid’s tenancy, which lends some suspense. Also a lot of imaginative human interiors. Quaid’s journey is realized by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic special effects company; they create some neat internal landscapes, such as Short’s ulcerous stomach and his rushing red blood cells (which look suspiciously like cherry Fruit Loops).

Unlike Fantastic Voyage, the emphasis is on the comedy, and the slapstick opportunities for the gifted Martin Short, who used to do hilarious work on “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live.” His high point is a frug in the manner of Ed Grimley (his pointy-haired “SNL” character) while Quaid plays tunes inside his body.

Since Quaid can talk to Short from inside, Short gets to do some amusing monologues, particularly one in a public men’s room. But somehow this idea seems warmed-over from All of Me, in which Steve Martin conducted a conversation with the internalized Lily Tomlin.

In fact, much of the film has a warmed-over quality. You’d think the best director for this kind of comedy-action blend would be Joe Dante, who lit the anarchic fire under Gremlins. But here Dante can’t get the overall machinery cooking, and I miss his usual feel for off-the-wall details.

The most interesting possibility is proposed when Quaid’s girlfriend, a reporter (Meg Ryan), gets swept into the intrigue, and becomes attracted to Short. Ordinarily, I’d think Dante would want to explore this unlikely threesome, but she goes back to Quaid and the movie drops it.

Innerspace delivers some good bits. Dante still has a fun touch with supporting players; he slips Henry Gibson in, and hands a juicy scene to Kathleen Freeman, who also stops the show with a similar single-scene tirade in the new Dragnet. But Dante seems underinspired, and the movie can’t run only on the rubbery legs of Martin Short.

First published in the Herald, July 1987

A fun movie, but something didn’t quite come to life. I never watched it again, but I have recently re-watched Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage, which deserves better than to be relegated to the camp classic category, although there is some of that there. It’s a well-made picture, and very imaginative. I may have been overly influenced by childhood memories of the Mad magazine parody, Fantasteeccch Voyage.


The Presidio

April 6, 2012

The Presidio is the first major dud among the summer movies, a silly film that employs almost every formulaic situation in the current book. The idea is a clash between an Army M.P. and a city cop when both are investigating a murder that happens on a military base.

This is not an unviable concept, but screenwriter Larry Ferguson and director Peter Hyams (2010) immediately step in the direction of cliché, and they never look back. In fact, the opening sequence is a car chase down the streets of San Francisco. Now there’s an idea that hasn’t been used in a movie in at least a year.

The military base in question is the Presidio, the hallowed compound at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course the Army man (Sean Connery) is a stiff-necked, by-the-book kinda guy, and of course the San Francisco cop (Mark Harmon) is a hothead who makes up his own rules. Connery was basically responsible for getting Harmon busted out of the Army a few years before, so these two fellows don’t much like each other, though you may suspect they will reconcile their differences before the final reel.

It probably goes without saying that Connery has a cute daughter (Meg Ryan) with whom Harmon strikes up an affair. And as long as we’re dragging in everything but the kitchen sink, let’s not forget Connery’s corny old pal (Jack Warden) from ‘Nam. Throw in a chase through Chinatown and the obligatory final showdown in an industrial factory, and all of the elements are there.

Except that none of the elements is new, or interesting. The Presidio is bad in many ways, from the regularly excruciating passages of dialogue to the palpable uncertainty of Mark Harmon essaying a tough-guy role (he’s trying to bring his voice down low, in an attempt to get away from his Mr. Nice Guy image).

The worst thing about the film is the way Hyams has left Sean Connery, his Outland star, out on a limb. Connery is fresh from winning the Oscar for his great work in The Untouchables, and he does try to fashion a performance here, but the role is so poorly written he doesn’t have a chance, except to get by on sheer professionalism.

The most embarrassing moment comes during Connery’s drunk scene, when he waxes about how the Army is “America’s Doberman pinscher,” always on the ready but not treated with respect. Or something like that. Anyway, The Presidio should do a fast fade and Connery can get on to what sounds like perfect casting: He’ll play the father of a certain globetrotting archaeologist in the next installment of the adventures of Indiana Jones.

First published in the Herald, June 15, 1988

Yeah, now this is a really awful movie. In 1988, based on the chewy pulp of Capricorn One, I still looked forward to seeing if Hyams might create a decent popcorn picture. The Presidio has the feel of something both contractually obligated and somehow left over from a writers’ strike, a deadness that sucks all the light out of the screen.