Should I Watch..? 'Inspector Gadget'
What's the big deal?
Inspector Gadget is a live-action family comedy film released in 1999 and is loosely based on the 1983 cartoon TV series of the same name. The film follows a dim-witted security guard undergoing a radical transformation into the ultimate crime-fighting detective and his efforts to bring a supervillain known as Dr Claw to justice. The film stars Matthew Broderick, Rupert Everett, Michelle Trachtenberg, Dabney Coleman, Joely Fisher and Andy Dick. Directed by David Kellogg, the film attracted a lot of criticism from fans of the TV show for taking too many liberties with the source material - chief of which was showing the identity of Dr Claw, something that never happened in the show. The film was released to mostly negative reviews from critics but despite this, the film did go onto earn $134.4 million worldwide and prompted Disney to release a direct-to-DVD sequel in 2003 where all but one of the cast members failed to return.
What's it about?
Security guard John Brown works at a robotics lab in Ohio which is working on a secret project known as Project Gadget. After being shown an artificial foot by the lab's owner Dr Artemus Bradford and his daughter Brenda (who John is attracted to), the lab is attacked by industrial tycoon Sanford Scolex who steals the foot and murders Dr Bradford before fleeing the scene in his limo. Determined to catch him, John gives chase but it's to no avail - he crashes his car which Scolex then blows up, leaving John for dead. Unfortunately for Scolex, a bowling ball from John's car lands on Scolex's hand and crushes it.
Determined to thank John for his efforts, Brenda arranges for him to be the initial test subject for Project Gadget - his body is completely rebuilt with every crime-fighting tool imaginable at his disposal including an equally pimped-out Gadgetmobile with an advanced AI computer system. As John slowly gets used to his new-found gizmos, Scolex has undergone a transformation of his own. Now using and known as Claw, Scolex plans to use the information he stole to create an army of robotic soldiers ready to wreck havoc on the world.
John Brown / Inspector Gadget
Sanford Scolex / Dr Claw
Dr Brenda Bradford
Chief Frank Quimby III
Dr Artemus Bradford
Michael G. Hagerty
Kerry Ehrin & Zak Penn*
Release Date (UK)
17th December, 1999
Action, Comedy, Family
What's to like?
I do understand the vitriol aimed at this movie but people do forget one crucial thing about Inspector Gadget - it's meant for kids. While the film does play fast and loose with the original TV show that more mature readers might recall, younger viewers will have no memories or preconceptions that the film has to satisfy. And by and large, the film works as a goofy comedy that young children will enjoy. After the somewhat dark opening, the film finds its footing and becomes a silly adventure involving cinema's least-threatening cyborg and a villain more obsessed with style than actual evil-doing.
Broderick's Gadget is more of an idiot than the character in the story, who was more of a clumsy klutz in the Inspector Clouseau-style. With every possible gadget concealed on his person, he has an almost unlimited capacity for chaos with helicopter blades emerging from his hat, extendable limbs and a hand with more accessories than your average Swiss Army penknife. With a bit more confidence, he could be a relative of Jim Carrey in The Mask. With Broderick goofing around with ample support from his talking car, Everett does a decent job of making Claw feel less scary than he was in the show. But make no mistake, this is a film for viewers under the age of ten because anyone older will hate this.
- The voice of Gadget in the cartoon show, Don Adams, cameos in the film as the voice of Brain the dog. The casting of Adams as Gadget was appropriate as the character was loosely based on Maxwell Smart, the role Adams played in the Sixties TV show Get Smart.
- Kellogg's only other film directing credit to date was the Vanilla Ice-vehicle Cool As Ice which also earned negative reviews and bombed at the box office. Kellogg is better known as a director of TV commercials and music videos.
- The film had a disastrous reaction during a test screening which made Disney cut the running time from 110 minutes to just 78 minutes.
What's not to like?
As far as fans of the show are concerned, Inspector Gadget makes several important errors which leaves the resulting material thoroughly Disney-fied. For example, the film is all too happy to humanise Claw by showing his face and giving him an actual name (another mistake they make with Gadget, come to think of it). The roles of Penny and Brain the dog, the characters who actually solved the crimes in the show, are crudely shoved to the sidelines and replaced by a wacky talking car that grates on your nerves from the first time we see and hear it. Honestly, I haven't been so aggravated by a supporting character since He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Spoken-of-Again from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.
The changes Disney do make don't necessarily improve the material, as evidenced by the switch from his transforming van to a talkative sports car. The film displays a lack of imagination despite the possibilities available to them - could Disney tell me precisely what sort of crime could be solved or prevented by the use of an industrial hose firing gallons of toothpaste everywhere? It's too goofy to entertain anyone but the youngest of viewers and it takes far too many liberties with the show to be almost unrecognisable to fans. The original show could entertain kids and adults and had a charm to it that is desperately lacking here. It's a sorry state of affairs when the film's best bit is a extra scene during the credits featuring one of Claw's henchmen at a meeting for other reformed henchmen.
Should I watch it?
It pains me to say that Inspector Gadget really should just go go away. The film has only a passing resemblance to the original show and is devoid of genuine humour, charm or personality. Broderick's misinterpretation of the hero, Everett's dismantling of the villain and Disney's mishandling of the material makes this little more than a substandard live-action Disney with just about enough to hold the interests of just the youngest of viewers. Adults will either be bored if they missed the original cartoon or angry if they loved it.
Great For: destroying childhood memories, very young viewers
Not So Great For: fans of the TV show, anyone older than 10, casting the sequel
What else should I watch?
Despite being dumped as a direct-to-DVD release, Inspector Gadget 2 actually does a better job of sticking closer to the original TV show. Sadly, with an almost entirely new cast, the film still doesn't make the grade and still received negative reviews when it was released. A reboot is apparently in the works but given their handling of the rights so far, I don't trust the House Of Mouse to truly deliver.
Much like video-game adaptations, live-action versions of cartoon shows have failed to produce a stand-out product. Films like The Flintstones, Popeye and Masters Of The Universe all carry a certain notoriety and these are just some of the more recognisable efforts. The only films to have found any sort of success are Transformers and its ever-growing list of money-making sequels although critical praise has been noticeably absent thus far, despite the series making billions. Sometimes, I really hate how Hollywood works.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox