It’s been no secret that this blog aspires to the highest, most elitist echelons of film criticism, and to understand the world we share through the rich medium of cinema, and my lust to be taken seriously has led me to watch this live action version of the popular Inspector Gadget cartoon. Derided from the moment of release, it’s now being touted for a reboot; I’m casting a critical eye over the original in a failed attempt to understand exactly what went wrong with this movie.
Memories of the original cartoon are as faded as The Hair Bear Bunch and Baggy Pants and the Nitwits; all that remains is a jolly theme song and a vague recollection of trench-coats, telescopic legs and BOINNGGG sound-effects. A feature demands rather more, and so Inspector Gadget begins in a fashion that would delight any child; a violent car accident that provides an origin story by divesting a security guard and his escaping quarry of their appendages. For The Claw (Rupert Everett), it’s the loss of one hand caused by a bowling ball falling through his sunroof. For Riverton, Ohio law enforcer John Brown (Matthew Broderick), it’s a complete physical upgrade of genuinely cartoonish proportions; telescopic arms and legs are only part of his transformation. Now Inspector Gadget, he’s ‘like the Six Million Dollar Man’ one character observes in a child-friendly reference to a mid-70’s show that ended two decades previously.
If the cartoon had a point, it was to combine the ineptitude of Inspector Clouseau with the gadget-heavy espionage games of James Bond. David Kellogg’s version was an expensive venture of the time, but offers little in the way of art or clarity. Gadget has an evil doppelganger, also played by Broderick, a ditzy girlfriend (Joely Fisher) and a talking car voiced by Dl Hughley. Edited down from 110 minutes to less that 70 minutes of actual action, the result is hopelessly garbled, impossible to follow and ugly on the eye.
Yet a scrap of entertainment survives; there’s an amusing post-credits scene which sees Richard Kiel and a number of other minion/villain helpers attending a support group, the one brief moment that actually sparks a laugh. Otherwise, pro support like Rene Auberjonois and Dabney Coleman have super-brief cameos, but no chance to shine, while weird speech-bubble flashbacks seem to allude to a different version of the film on the cutting room floor. Inspector Gadget is hoist by his own petard as a mechanical failure, which is what both the character and the film are, a soulless scream that damaged the careers of all concerned, and didn’t do much for me either.