Recently, I made a reference to the movie “Innerspace” in a conversation with one of my co-workers, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone escape the 1980s without having seen “Innerspace” at least a dozen times? It seemed to be a Saturday afternoon staple on all the local TV stations where I grew up. Also, it’s an excellent sci-fi/comedy — a difficult balance to strike — directed by the inimitable Joe Dante (“Gremlins”).
I remember seeing “Innerspace” in the theater during its original release. I must’ve been about 7 or 8. It was one of those movie-going experiences in my youth that’s been crystallized in my mind. I sometimes forget about what I saw last weekend, but I can still remember going into the auditorium to see “Innerspace” and loving it to pieces as a kid.
The film stars Dennis Quaid as cocky fighter pilot, Tuck Pendleton. Tuck’s volunteered for a top secret project in which he and a submersible pod will be shrunken down to microscopic size and injected in a laboratory rabbit. But during the experiment, an industrial spy named Mr. Igoe (Vernon Wells) tries to steal the hypodermic needle that contains the minutuized pod with Tuck inside. The lead scientist, however, flees Igoe and, before dying of a gunshot wound, injects a hypocondriac grocery store clerk named Jack Putter (Martin Short) with 50ccs of Tuck Pendleton.
What follows is the most unusual buddy movie ever made. While Tuck goes on the adventure of a lifetime within Jack’s circulatory system, Jack’s relentlessly pursued by well-dressed megalomaniac Victor Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy). Scrimshaw wants to steal the miniturizition tech from Jack’s body and sell it on the black market as a new type of weapon. Jack, meanwhile, needs to recover a microchip from Scrimshaw that can restore Tuck to normal size. The only person who can help Jack on this caper is Tuck’s estranged girlfriend, a newspaper reporter named Lydia (Meg Ryan).
I should also mention Robert Picardo’s turn as self-styled ladies’ man and weapons dealer, The Cowboy. Picardo always brings his A-game as a character actor, but this role has to be my personal favorite of his. And the scene where Tuck literally rearranges Jack’s face to make him look like The Cowboy is probably the funniest scene in the movie and Joe Dante at his most madcap.
The sci-fi action is first-rate as well. Late in the film, Scrimshaw shrinks Igoe down and injects him in Jack to find Tuck. The battle between Tuck and Igoe in Jack’s stomach has some great practical effects work and a great punchline: “You just digested the bad guy.”
“Innerspace” is an overlooked gem of the 1980s. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, it holds up quite well. And if you’ve never seen it, well, get on that. Getting puzzled looks from people when I make “Innerspace” references is something I hope to make a thing of the past.