Review: Innerspace

Joe Dante delights with this brilliant 1980s comedy that mixes fantasy and science-fiction with the talents of Martin Short and Dennis Quaid.

Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Martin Short and Meg Ryan
Released: 1987 / Genre: Science-fiction/Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD: DVD
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Discover More: Top 10 1980s science-fiction films for children | Review of Innerspace director Joe Dante’s masterpiece The Burbs

Joe Dante’s delightful special-effects extravaganza Innerspace is one of a series of Steven Spielberg-produced adventure films released during the 1980s. These films, such as Richard Donner’s The Goonies and Robert Zemeckis’ Back To The Future, saw Spielberg’s innocent, childlike sense of the fantastic through the eyes of Hollywood’s most talented up-and-coming filmmakers.

Innerspace and films like it were products of the period. Thanks to advances in computer generated imagery, much of it coming from George Lucas’ company Industrial Light and Magic which was developed to produce the Star Wars movies, Hollywood was seeking out stories that could go beyond the boundaries of our world. Now the technology was in place to realise these swashbuckling adventures on-screen with an authenticity not witnesses before. But with outer space and the depths of the ocean ticked off, where else was there to go. The answer – inside a human being. And through the powers of miniaturisation – a popular theme that saw the production of the box office hit Honey, I Shrunk The Kids – film could explore a new world that was, ironically, familiar to us all.

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Innerspace sees Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid), an ace US Navy pilot with a penchant for alcohol and barroom brawling, put himself forward for an experiment in miniaturisation. The experiment will see him enter a life support capsule which will then be miniaturised and injected into a laboratory rabbit for internal tests. But during the experiment the laboratory is raided by a group working for the unscrupulous Victor Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy) who wants the technology for himself. One of the scientists manages to escape with Tuck’s miniaturised capsule in a hypodermic needle. Eventually getting to the local mall, he is shot by one of Scrimshaw’s henchman but not before injecting Tuck into hypochondriac supermarket worker Jack Putter (Martin Short).

Attaching devices to Jack’s eyes and ears, Tuck is able to see what Jack sees and also talk to the man he is now inside. Eventually getting Jack to understand their predicament, which is difficult at first since Jack thinks the voice in his head is a clear indication that he is possessed, the pair set out to find the much-needed miniaturisation microchip that will allow Tuck to return to his former size before his oxygen supplies run out.

joe dante, martin short, dennis quaid,

Innerspace mixes science-fiction, a little horror and comedy to great effect. It is a trait of the director seen so successfully in his horror-comedies Gremlins and The ‘Burbs, where Dante is able to seamlessly blend light and dark. The film is very funny at times (not least when Jack feels he has an inner strength thanks to Tuck inhabiting his body, which lead to some triumphant duels with the bad guys) while it thrills the senses with several brilliant action sequences both in and out of Jack’s body. Jack’s escape from a meat truck is a highlight of his character’s rise to prominence, while Tuck has to battle Scrimshaw’s evil henchman who is miniaturised and sent into Jack’s body to eliminate the competition.

The special-effects are also enthralling as this fantastic voyage sets up the human body as a dramatic, otherworldly and dangerous place (witness the battle to escape Jack’s stomach acid) while giving it a realistic familiarity that highlights the power and the beauty of the human body (there’s a lovely moment when Tuck finds out his on-off girlfriend is pregnant).

But ultimately it is Dennis Quaid and Martin Short who make the film work so successfully. They have a great chemistry on-screen as this unusual friendship blossoms. Both have a talent for comedy – Short’s outlandish antics complement the dry sarcasm of Quaid. Jeffrey Boam and Chip Proser’s script also allows the two characters to grow. Short’s neurosis and hypochondria gradually diminishes as the voice in his head builds his confidence, while Quaid learns the value of his relationship to Lydia (Meg Ryan).

Innerspace is therefore a very accomplished science-fiction comedy that ticks all the right boxes. As well as featuring some wonderful special-effects, its two leads – Dennis Quaid and Martin Short – have a great chemistry together. Funny, scary, awe-inspiring and inspirational, this Steven Spielberg-produced film is one the director would have been proud of making himself.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Steven Flores Reply

    This was one of my favorite films growing up in the 1980s. It’s just a fun film to watch filled with lots of great humor and amazing visual effects for its time. Yet, I feel that it’s also underrated in the sea of movies that came out at the time. Plus, it’s one of the few movies where I was able to tolerate both Martin Short and Meg Ryan since I don’t really like watching either of them on film.

    Plus, if you watch carefully in the scene where the Cowboy steps into a plane. You will see original New York Dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane as a passenger on the plane. He’s only in it for a second but he mentioned in his documentary about him which is a great doc to watch.

  2. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Such a great film. This review brings back so many memories – I especially ove the “Twistin’ the Night Away” scene, one of my childhood faves, and the effects with Quaid inside Shorts body are/were pretty damn phenomenal for their time.

    I must watch this film again, and soon.

  3. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Rodney: Yeah, the effects still look good today. Definitely worth checking out again.

  4. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Steven: Nice anecdote about the New York Dolls bassist, I’ll have to watch out for that next time I watch the film. I like Martin Short but, like you, I’m not a fan of Meg Ryan but I can tolerate her in this. There were a lot of great fantasy films that came out during the 1980s and for me Innerspace is one of the best.

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    Eamon Reply

    This is one of those movies I keep meaning to buy on DVD and then forget to, I watched it as a kid and I love it so much, as you said it’s a product of its time and yet its a lovely reminder of a time when genre blockbusters were made with wit, ingenuity and brilliance.

  6. Avatar
    Will Reply

    This one was one of my absolute favorites growing up. I haven’t seen it in so long, I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up, but your review signals that it does. I remember the FX being so amazing.

  7. Avatar
    Louise Reply

    I haven’t seen Innerspace in years but it was one that I loved loads when I was growing up. Had a real crush on Dennis Quaid. I’m really glad it’s held up since the 80s. Must try to get hold of a copy

  8. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    I remember we saw Innerspace in a packed room during lunch break at school, and of course I had to see the rest on vhs at home. That weird lady in the supermarket gave me the creeps as an 8-year-old!!! I think you need to find Innerspace as a kid to really love it.

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