Inspector Gadget (1999) Review

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Gadgetmobile: You gotta wear the belt, baby. It’s a Disney Movie.

Beware: Spoilers may follow.

Inspector Gadget was an awesome cartoon with the Inspector’s bumbling antics, Penny and Brain’s antics in doing the right thing (albeit never getting credit for it), and of course the mysterious villain Dr. Claw whose face was never seen and had a cool voice. Like most popular nostalgic cartoons it got its own live-action movie. Unfortunately there is nothing in this movie that captures the nostalgia of the cartoon.

The story involves security guard John Brown (Matthew Broderick) who gets badly injured in an explosion at a lab due to a nefarious mastermind named Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett). A robotics surgeon named Brenda (Joely Fisher) decides to replace his limbs with all sorts of gadgets and tools transforming him into a cybernetic police officer known as Inspector Gadget. Thus he uses his new gadgets to find out who caused the explosion.

Now one can argue that the movie is only trying to be a loose adaptation of the cartoon. But the movie plays the classic catchy theme song throughout several scenes (to the movie’s credit their rendition in the opening is nicely done) and even has a voice cameo by Gadget’s original actor Don Adams.

The editing is also off. The movie is often very weird when it transitions. Now weirdness has been a major part of cartoon history and sometimes has been the heart of cartoons. The imagery however is very distracting and there’s no “method to the madness” so to speak.

Broderick’s performance just feels awkward. His bumbling antics don’t have the same naiveté of the cartoon as he’s shown to have a fair bit of navigation in this movie and it leads to a lot of moments where he screws up. It honestly makes it questionable as to why he was chosen for the Gadget Program.

Given that it’s a movie and Dr. Claw is an important character as the villain, it is somewhat difficult to go the entire movie without showing his face. However Everett was horribly miscast. He is not at all what one would imagine what Dr. Claw would look like. His performance is so goofy and over-the-top that he feels more like one of Dr. Claw’s minions as opposed to the mastermind himself. In fact his minions in this movie are just about as silly as he is (and surprisingly would fit in the vein of the cartoon).

Other characters from the cartoon such as Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg), Brain, and Chief Quimby (Dabney Coleman) are in no way reminiscent to their cartoon counterparts. Penny doesn’t snoop around until the very end (and even that was mostly off screen) and Brain doesn’t do much of anything. Chief Quimby is outright bitter towards Gadget merely viewing him as a publicity stunt for no apparent reason. In the cartoon he was bitter towards Gadget but only because Gadget would often blow up his face with the messages.

The movie is also overloaded with zany effects. Not only does they not hold up but also they are everywhere and sometimes with no purpose. They are used so much without rhyme or reason to the point that it makes the cartoon look dignified by comparison. And yet the movie is still expecting us to take the whole thing seriously. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: You can’t have it both ways.

Inspector Gadget fails at being an adaptation and fails at being comedic. It doesn’t offer much of what made the show likable and anything taken from the show is completely butchered. The original Inspector Gadget didn’t have much to offer to an adult audience but it was still a fun cartoon at heart. Despite having a heavy emphasis on the main character’s heart, this movie has none of the heart of the cartoon.

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