Things have not been going well for top pilot Lieutenant Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) because frankly he isn't a top pilot anymore now that his drink problem has left him an embarrassment to the military. As if that were not bad enough, he is losing his girlfriend, the love of his life Lydia Maxwell (Meg Ryan) who is a reporter with a local San Francisco newspaper and doesn't have time for Tuck's messing around as his life goes down the dumper. Two months after she walks out on him, he has gotten his act together sufficiently to be part of a top secret project: can being miniaturised redeem him?
Director Joe Dante was for many fans at his best in the eighties where he could truly realise his wild ideas with the backing of big bucks producers such as Steven Spielberg, but at the time he had more misses as hits with the moviegoing audience, and Innerspace was another of his underperformers at the box office. Yet as was the case with his work, it found an audience on home video and in its television broadcasts, proving a popular film to visit time and again through its mixture of wacky comedy and state of the art special effects. He had described this as being like Dean Martin getting inside the body of Jerry Lewis, which conjures up a terrible image until you factor in the Fantastic Voyage spoof.
Though actually for an idea which is plainly preposterous and none too scientific, they take the logistics of such an experiment very seriously, with the ILM effects obviously up to scratch, and indeed winning an Oscar for their shots of Dennis Quaid guiding his pod as it courses through Martin Short's insides. How does he get there? This is where the further homage to nineteen-sixties pop culture ensues as Innerspace was a spy spoof as much at home in that milieu as it was in the bright baubles of eighties would-be blockbusters, so there is a contingent of evildoers who wish to take the shrinking technology for themselves, led by Dante favourite Kevin McCarthy. As ever, there were plenty of links to the past in his casting and his references, which for his aficionados made them all the more enjoyable.
These included Kenneth Tobey in the restroom, William Schallert as a doctor, Lewis stalwart Kathleen Freeman and Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones in the supermarket (Dante was nothing if not respectful to his influences) and for Short, his SCTV pals Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin appeared in the doctor's office. Really it was a buzz for movie buffs to see so many reliables in one place - Dick Miller as the cab driver was the icing in the cake, though Fiona Lewis as a villain in her final role was bittersweet for her followers as she decided she wasn't enjoying acting anymore, a loss to the cult-ish movies she preferred. She did get one of her most memorable scenes however, as her attachment-handed henchman Mr Igoe (Vernon Wells) gives her character stimulation, offscreen, but you can get the joke if your mind works that way.
Quaid's role wasn't his best, as it required him to sit in the pod for two hours while everyone else did the heavy lifting. Once miniaturised, he is injected into hypochondriac cashier Jack Putter (Short) when he thought he was supposed to be in a test rabbit (called Bugs, natch). But this is a way of keeping him out of McCarthy's clutches, though not for long; once he has established what has happened he makes contact with Putter and they team up in a wish-fulfilment for nerds so that man's man Tuck can teach his wimpy host to drink, drive, fight, show women who's boss, and of course, this being the eighties, dance around to an old pop record. With a new best friend like Tuck, the sky's the limit for Jack, and as the plot progresses it gets more capricious, with the likes of Robert Picardo as a bad cowboy operative being impersonated by our hero once Tuck rearranges his features in highly incredible fashion. This was as undisciplined as Dante got, and if the strain shows, the energy did win you over. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
American director of science fiction and horror, a former critic who got his big break from Roger Corman directing Hollywood Boulevard. Piranha was next, and he had big hits with The Howling and Gremlins. But his less successful films can be as interesting: Explorers didn't do as well as he had hoped, but illustrated the love of pop culture that is apparent in all his work.