It’s no secret that Disney movies have become increasingly formulaic over the years. It is a trend that worked (mostly) well with their animation division, because…well, their animated films were good to begin with. However, their live-action fare hasn’t fared as well. On rare occasions, we get a solid film of the likes of George of the Jungle or The Parent Trap, but mostly we are treated to tepid rehashes like That Darn Cat. And thus in the mold of, Flubber, and My Favorite Martian, we now have Inspector Gadger. Sort of a hybrid of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Mask, Inspector Gadget is based upon the mid-80s cartoon series about a robotically enhanced bumbling detective. But this special-effects laden disaster is yet another example of what happens when bad formulas go bad.
John Brown (Matthew Broderick) starts out his career as a unintimidating laboratory security guard, but with hopes of one day becoming a policeman. He sees his chance when the evil billionaire industrialist Scolex (Rupert Everett) attempts a robbery at the lab. However, his rescue effort is botched in an accident which leaves John seriously injured and Scolex missing his left hand. (Don’t worry, the injuries aren’t too graphic.)
Luckily for John, he is selected as a prototype candidate for the Gadget program, an attempt to create the policeman of the future. After hours of bionic surgery, John Brown has become Inspector Gadget, the human Swiss army knife. With gadgets and gizmos galore, Inspector Gadget sets out to fight crime…even though he hasn’t worked out all the bugs in his system quite yet.
Scolex, meanwhile, has his missing hand fitted for a harsh steel robotic claw (from which he gets his new nickname: “Claw! One word…like Madonna!” The villainous Claw then sets upon his fiendish plan to create chaos. He creates an evil Robo-Gadget to wreak havoc upon the city, and ruin Inspector Gadgets reputation at the same time.
Fans of the TV show will recognize the various gadgets, but little else. Matthew Broderick is seemingly the anti-Don Adams (who provided the voice and inspiration for the cartoon Gadget), and Rupert Everett, while smarmy, is hardly menacing as Claw. Gadget’s niece, Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg), and dog Brain (a voiceless beagle) appear, but are given rather understated roles (compared to the TV show). In fact about the only casting coup the film version of Inspector Gadget makes is by assigning Dabney Coleman to the role of Police Chief Quimby.
Filling the unnecessary role of way-too-annoying comic relief this time out is the Gadgetmobile, Inspector Gadget’s talking car with attitude. Actually comic relief is a very misleading term to use. The Gadgetmobile is rarely comic, and is at no time a relief from anything. On the contrary, the irritating car actually raises stress while it is onscreen. Besides, since when does a comedy need comic relief?
But the Gadgetmobile serves to fill another checkbox in the ill-conceived Disney Live Action Film Formula. Let’s see, that’s the Annoying Sidekick. You’ve got the “Tragic Loss” scene, check. The “Let’s Milk the Tears from the Kiddies by Pretending the Hero is Dead” scene, check. The “Countless References to Other Disney Films–Available at a Disney Store Near You” scenes, check. The “Painfully Contrived Product Plugs”, check. Oh, and let’s not forget the all important “Poorly Written Script”, check. Someone needs to tell the folks at Disney that when a formula doesn’t work…STOP USING IT!
One good thing about Inspector Gadget is that it is painlessly brief, clocking in at a shorter running time than many of Disney’s animated features. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly for a Disney film), a few of the saucier moments that were prominently featured in the previews for the film failed to make it into the final cut. An additional few scenes barely squeaked by as brief flashes in “thought bubbles” Inspector Gadget periodically has. Why they were edited out remains a mystery…one that will hopefully remain so. The world is not ready for an Inspector Gadget director’s cut.
There are a few mildly humorous movie references in the film, but not enough to entertain any adult in the audience. Kids will be slightly amused…but they’d get just as much entertainment from watching the cartoon reruns on cable. Go-Go-Gadget out of the theater.