Innerspace (1987)

Dir. by Joe Dante

Starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan and Martin Short


An experiment in miniaturization is interrupted by a gang of corporate raiders attempting to steal the technology.  One scientist escapes, and ends up injecting the test pilot, intended for a rabbit, into the body of a grocery store clerk.  The pilot is able to establish communications with him, and together they have to retrieve the technology from the thieves so that he can be re-enlarged before his oxygen runs out.


I could’ve sworn I’d seen this only a couple of years ago.  However, my movie-watching spreadsheet (which I’ve been keeping since 2008) says that I haven’t watched it in that timespan.  It’s not one that I’d watched a whole lot as a kid, but it’s one I was familiar enough with to remember a lot of the plot beats, and some of the bigger scenes.


Okay, this is more like it.  Unlike The Last Starfighter and Short Circuit, the previous two nostalgic 80s movies I’ve reviewed, Innerspace really holds up as a wholly entertaining movie in its own right separate from the nostalgia.  The plot moves quickly, the performances are great across the board, and the effects are stupendous – not just by the standards of the 1980s, but I’d say even now.  But more on that later.

Like Short Circuit, this movie is meant to be an action comedy, with the emphasis on the comedy.  Despite the former film featuring a robot as a central character, I’d actually say this movie reads as the more “sci-fi” of the two.  Besides the miniaturized pilot, played by Dennis Quaid as a mild “likeable asshole” who is, in fact, quite likeable, there’s a hitman with a prosthetic arm that doubles as a gun and a blowtorch, and a microwave device that Quaid uses to blow up a TV (Quaid’s disgusted “I’m inside a guy who likes game shows” got me to laugh out loud).  The comedy is mostly centered on Martin Short as the clerk, who gives off a Gene Wilder vibe as the neurotic, hypochondriac, supremely lacking in self-confidence man that Quaid gets stuck inside.  His reactions and physical humor had me laughing out loud more than I have while watching a movie alone in quite a while.  Especially so in a bravura sequence of physical comedy in which Quaid uses muscle stimulation to transform Short’s face into the other sublimely silly character from the movie, the fantastic Robert Picardo’s arms dealer known as the “Cowboy”.

The face I make every time the store is out of Mountain Dew

Now, it’s fairly obvious that Picardo is supposed to be playing a vaguely Middle Eastern character, from the accent, the fact that he’s reading a magazine printed in Arabic, and the casual script references to his selling secrets in the Persian Gulf.  However, his character is dressed as an incredibly ridiculous, stereotypical Texan (this being the era of Dallas), and the movie never goes into anything specific about his background.  I had a much easier time accepting his character than Fisher Stevens’s in Short Circuit without any misgivings about brownface. It helps that Picardo is also a gifted comedian, and he practically steals the show every moment he’s on-screen.

The Ewings called. They want their wardrobe back.

Speaking of stealing the show, this movie is packed full of wonderful character actors playing small parts, a large number of which have subsequently appeared on Star Trek shows.  Besides the aforementioned Picardo, William Schallert (Short’s doctor), Henry Gibson (his boss), Andrea Martin (the lady whom he talks to in the waiting room), Kenneth Tobey (the man who observes Short talking to “himself” in the restroom), and Dick Miller (the cabbie who picks up Quaid’s girlfriend) had all appeared in Deep Space Nine episodes (Martin actually played Quark’s mother Ishka, and I recognized her without the Ferengi makeup).  The lady from Short’s dream sequence was also played by Kathleen Freeman, whom I remember from her memorable cameo as the stern nun from the Blues Brothers movies, the first of which will hopefully be a future review.

Besides the comedy, which I definitely remembered, there’s also a lot more action in the movie than I had recalled.  There’s a car vs. bicycle chase at the beginning that works better than it has a right to, several fistfights, and a sequence in the middle, involving Short hanging off the back of a truck door while the vehicle was moving, that reminded me of stuff I’ve seen in Jackie Chan movies.  I’m sure that a lot of it was done with a stunt double, but the part that had him balancing precariously on the edge of a convertible’s windshield as it’s driving definitely looked like he’d done it himself.

Which brings me back around, finally, to the movie’s effects.  This film won that year’s Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and it’s easy to see why.  The sequences with Quaid inside Short’s body look outstanding.  The film was clearly influenced by Fantastic Voyage, and the effects crews took full advantage of the opportunity to reimagine what the inside of the body would look like up close with the benefit of two decades worth of advancement in effects.  Everything was done practically, and I really can’t imagine it looking much better even with the addition of CG.


So yeah, this one’s definitely a keeper.  The only thing that truly dates this movie is a five minute sequence in a nightclub that just screams mid-to-late 80s, down to the Madonna inspired wardrobes and Wang Chung music.  It deserves to be better known than it is, and is one to check out if you’re interested in seeing Martin Short at the peak of his game, a really young Meg Ryan, and some gorgeous model, miniature and composite work.

Nostalgia: B

Rewatch: A-

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